Local Barriers to Entry: Arlington Beer Garden Edition

Josh Wright —  28 February 2012

Last week I posted about the regulatory barriers facing an ice cream shop in San Francisco.  A student passes along a story that hits a bit closer to home: the sale of beer right here in Arlington County.  Apparently, the owner of the Westover Beer Garden has had enough:

It’s been a contentious couple of weeks for the Westover Market and Beer Garden. Upon receiving a warning from Arlington County, it suddenly declared the beer garden would shut down until April 1. Today, the saga continues as management has decided to re-open the beer gardenagainst the County’s wishes.

Owner Devin Hicks said he’s tried working with the county on the matter but his efforts have not been successful. Now he’s going to do what he believes Westover Market is entitled to do by law — operate a year-round patio area.

Arlington County has a website devoted the Westover Beer Garden and its regulation thereof.  The heart of the dispute appears to be whether a parking requirement imposed by the county is optional or mandatory.

On the page, it states that establishments with outdoor patios must have ample parking for the number of people being served, but that parking requirement is reduced if the establishment is near a Metro stop. The County allows establishments to get around the parking rule by becoming “seasonal” and closing for three or more months each year.

Because the Westover beer garden isn’t deemed as having enough parking, it’s supposed to be seasonal. However, Hicks points out the rule is technically a “guideline” and not an actual “ordinance.” He believes the county has been enforcing a measure that was never officially put in the books.

The County’s web page for Westover Market links to another County page, titled “Guidelines for Outdoor Cafes.” On that document it states: “Unless otherwise required by the County Board, outdoor cafes shall be exempt from any parking requirement.” It goes on to say: “There is no explicit requirement in the Zoning Ordinance that requires them to be temporary or seasonal.”

Of his long-running trouble with the county, Hicks said relations have improved over the past year or so, but he believes he’s currently being unfairly targeted with the enforcement of the seasonal rule.

“We’re just going to go ahead and do what’s legally right,” Hicks said. “There’s nothing in the rules that says it has to be seasonal.”

As I mentioned in the post on the bay area ice cream shop, I suspect the pernicious economic effects of local barriers to entry, rather than those at the state or federal level, are much larger than generally presumed.

20 responses to Local Barriers to Entry: Arlington Beer Garden Edition


    Obviously we need a beer-in, to demonstrate that the community supports Westover. Who’s with me?


    When John Hospers ran for President in 1972 on the first Libertarian ticket, his best stump speech was his story of trying to start an ice-cream shop in New York City.

    The LP, and libertarian sentiment in general, appears to have grown a great deal in 40 years, but the realities of small business have gotten worse.


    Local or national ,when you give apperachicks power to make rules by fiat this is what you get.Vote the S.O.B commisioners out or make their ears bleed with your anger at a county meeting. Or suffer as slaves to their whims.Your choice.


    Ha, in south Arlington, Texas, for years a local judge would not allow a liquor license for a local hooters, so when you went there, hooters would give you the beer for free (2 beer limit officially, but crazily enough i never seemed to reach that second beer)….they are still open as far as i know, the judge is dead now.


    I have no sympathy. Arlington is famously liberal. When you vote for these people, this is what you get. These people believe in intrusive, aggressive, pervasive government and your fellow citizens voted them into office and you are now getting intrusive, aggressive, pervasive government. You asked for it, you got it. Again, no sympathy.



    DC Preservation Watch 29 February 2012 at 12:08 pm

    There’s another kind of hyper-local regulation in the form of historic preservation laws. Preservationists are kind of like environmentalists: absolutists with no sense of trade-off.


      I ran into one of those historic preservation laws. The building I worked in was historic — but had to be upgraded for handicap access. Talk about a bundle of angry polecats! One insisted this; the other forbade it. And so forth.


    Man, my hair lit on fire … and then I realized you mean Arlington, VA. Not Arlington, TX.

    Whew, relief. We really, and I mean REALLY do NOT like this kind of government fascism down in Texas.

    On the other hand, Virginia? Expected.


      Unless you’re in Austin…

      J. Moses Browning 29 February 2012 at 12:31 pm

      Actually, we have a lot less of that stuff in liberal Arlington, Virginia that there is in liberal Austin, Texas, because our local govmints only have the powers delegated to them by the General Assembly.

      For example, they’ll fine a homeowner in Austin if he doesn’t put his trash and “recycling” in the right kind of can. None o’ that nonsense around here. And here in Virginia, a passenger can sip a beer while the driver drives. But the nannies in Texas say, “Oh no you don’t, podna!” Plus, here in Virginia, you can open-carry your pistol just about anywhere you please, except schools and courthouses. Not so in “wild” West Texas. Or any part of Texas.

      You poor peasants, you.


    This doesn’t sound so much like a barrier to entry as an unduly burdensome, and potentially non-sensical, regulation.


      The two are not mutually exclusive; a unduly burdensome and costly regulation from the perspective of a potential entrant beer garden sure seems appropriate described as a barrier to entry to me.


        I suppose it depends on how narrowly or broadly one defines a barrier to entry (Mr. Stigler meet Mr. Bain). To be sure, complying with the regulations is a cost of doing business, just as having the bar, equipment, servers, etc. is, but it’s a cost borne by all market participants (at least in Arlington) presumably equally (or close to), as it’s essentially a real estate rental cost that’s ongoing (either as actual rent or implicit rent via opportunity cost of retaining the land used for parking). Put different, it’s not clear to me how these regulations advantage incumbents, unless there is something about Arlington that has limited the number of bar locations that could reasonably meet the parking qualifications.


        I understand well the various definitional disputes over BTE in the economics literature (FWIW, I prefer Harold Demsetz’s approach: “the problem of defining ownership is precisely that of creating properly scaled legal barriers to entry”), but this is one case in which I think the confusion in economics over defining BTEs mostly muddles up the relevant economics.


    I may be biased since I stop by Westover on occasion (BTW, it’s close the GMU law school, you should stop by one evening Josh!) but this all part of a long running dispute that one local resident has with Westover Market. And now the county, which has a ton of odd, bizarre rules, guidelines, etc., is stuck enforcing stuff that should not be on the books to begin with (or, which may not actually be on the books). The District of Columbia has something similar with agreements that a lot of establishments are forced to enter into with neighborhood groups (ANCs) that place all sorts of restrictions on how and when they can operate. Every now and then I think it would be great to open a local place like Westover and then stories like this remind me that I would be crazy to do so.


    Arlington County’s position that the outdoor patio at the Beer Garden has to be seasonal isn’t supported by the documentation they’ve provided on their website. The Market’s use permit does not require them to close the outdoor patio for three months. The Arlington County Zoning Ordinance does not require parking for outdoor patios and it does not require them to be seasonal. The county appears to be enforcing Zoning Administrator Advice from November 2010 which seems to change the policy on outdoor cafes by requiring them to be seasonal. The outdoor Beer Garden was open the last two winters which would also seem to negate the county’s argument that they’re violating zoning ordinance. All this wrangling with the county is a huge hardship for this small business, at no benefit to the County.

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