Loans and Riots, Vigils and Cookouts

The Long Legacy of Dave Brown Liquors

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Kevin Brown, preparing for retirement, still greets customers at Dave Brown Liquors amid the reduced stock (including that one Dallas hat).

“The place looks like a ghost town now,” Deanwood resident Yvonne Johnson says of Dave Brown Wine & Liquors. “But those few bottles left on the shelves don’t tell the whole story.” Johnson and other neighbors want to ensure that the Brown family legacy is not lost when the property at 4721 Sheriff Road NE is transferred to a new owner. Many in the area are watching closely to see what the turnover of businesses like Dave Brown Liquors will mean for the community.

‘I’m Done’
Kevin Brown is the third family member to run the Deanwood store, launched by his father Dave in 1964. For decades Kevin worked alongside Dave and brother David “Jim” Brown. But Dave Brown died in 1998 and Jim in 2004. A third brother, Andre, has a separate career and does not work in the store. Now, Kevin says, “after 43 years, seven days a week, I’m done.”

Other area businesses face similar situations, according to Deborah Jones, executive director of Ward 7 Business Partnership. “Owners have been there for years and want to retire, and they are looking for someone to buy or take over the business.”

David “Jim” Brown, who died in 2004, joins a model in advertising for the store, still on Sheriff Road NE after 52 years.

Some Sheriff Road businesses have changed owners recently, including A&S Grocery and Tradit’s Barbershop, Jones notes, “and so far, owners are providing the same service as before.” It’s not yet certain if the same will hold for Dave Brown Liquors and others in the area.

Dave Brown Liquors found a buyer in 2016, and Kevin expected to be enjoying retirement by Thanksgiving. But the buyer backed out, leaving Kevin to “start the sale process all over” and the store with only a smattering of stock and a skeleton staff.

Cookouts, Riots and Loans
Dave Brown and his wife Geraldine go back a ways in Deanwood, according to long-time resident Beverly Goode. Goode and her husband George have known the Browns since their teen years. The four of them, like all Ward 7 residents before H.D. Woodson was built, had to travel across town for high school. “We all went to Dunbar together.”

Later the community was happy to see Dave Brown Liquors open, Goode says. The store was never a full-fledged grocery, but it was “very helpful for black families in the area, and we very much enjoyed it,” she adds. “The store had a cookout every year – they really went all out, and Geraldine was out there. Dave was a good man and good for the community.”

Johnson, a neighbor of the store for 48 years ago, saw it as a source of neighborhood employment and a great place for hotdogs and half-smokes. In addition, she says, Dave Brown made the parking lot available, free of charge, when nearby St. Rose Pentecostal Church needed it. The lot, which has since been sold, was also used for community events, including outdoor prayer vigils and block parties, as well as parking.

The store and the neighbors looked out for one another, Johnson says. “If there was an emergency, Dave would cash our checks to help out until payday.” When the riots started in 1968, “George went over and stayed with Dave,” Goode relates. “That warehouse nearby was burned down, but the store was safe.”

Despite robberies, Jones notes, Dave Brown Liquors is one of the few stores in the area that never installed plexiglass.

Things Change
“Jobs are so rare now,” Kevin says. “People are not working, and they’re not spending.” The recession, as well as crime concerns, hit businesses in Ward 7 hard, says Jones. In addition, studies show that spending on bar and restaurant drinks has gone up in recent years while spending on alcohol for home consumption has gone down. A few years ago, nearby Uncle Lee’s received a Class A liquor license. Many DC convenience stores stock beer and wine, and customers also flock to big box stores. “I would say, ‘Kevin, don’t leave me!’” remarks Goode, who finally left her Deanwood home two years ago to live with a daughter in Bethesda. “But he said the competition was hurting business.”

In 2013 Kimberly Gaines and Seshat Walker, local artists and entrepreneurs, organized a “cash mob” to support the store. “We must work on supporting our own businesses,” Gaines says, “and in turn our businesses have to work on marketing to new neighbors for support as well.”

“Kevin Brown was one of the original businesses in the Ward 7 Partnership,” Jones says. “We did storefront replacements on Sheriff Road,” but “none of the Great Streets grants have been for Sheriff Road. Leaders need to look at what kind of help they are giving to these businesses.”

What Next?
“It will be sad to see a small, family-owned business leave,” Jones says. “But some of the other small businesses have changed over successfully, and that is hopeful.” Both Johnson and Gaines muse about being able to purchase the property in order to preserve its legacy. The building is zoned for mixed-use commercial development, and Kevin says he has considered selling the property separately from the business and liquor license. They are still pursuing options, he says. “My wife Helen helps out a lot – providing encouragement and suggestions.”

Whatever happens, Gaines says, “I am deeply saddened to see the store go. Truly a terrible loss for Deanwood.” Johnson concurs: “The family was very close to the community for years, and they will be missed.”

Kevin recalls the cookout/block-party years, which lasted through the 1980s, as some of the store’s most vibrant. He mentions Chuck Brown (no relation) as an interesting patron, entertainer, and friend from earlier days. The Godfather of Go-Go is not the only one from the old days to have passed on. But Dave Brown Liquors continues to serve as a gathering place for neighbors. Kevin says chatting and laughing with neighbors is what he expects to miss most.

Virginia Spatz regularly contributes to Capital Community News. She can be found online at vspatz.wordpress.com and in person at most meetings of the Capitol View Library’s writing group.