“We could have gone to college and earned a degree in the time it’s taken to defend our family’s business and restore my father’s legacy; but thank God we’ve come out of this whole licensing tussle, victorious,” Bo Sampson, told the AFRO following a final ruling by the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration on Nov. 3.
The family-owned social hall, founded in 1978, began facing challenges in 2015 when new homeowners protested a shift in the venues liquor licensing that would permit The V.I.P. Room to permanently serve alcohol. Since its founding, the establishment secured temporary day/event alcohol licenses through D.C.’s Office of Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) at a cost of $300 per license.
With the popularity of the venue, Sampson was advised to apply for a tavern license, which would offer an annual renewable liquor license and streamline the cost. It was during this revised application process, Sampson said, that new residents began an aggressive campaign to label the business a nuisance to the neighborhood. Complainants argued that public urination, debris, increased violence, reduced parking and decreased property values were a direct result of the VIP Room and its clientele; allegations later proved unfounded or erroneous.
It took four years and the concerted effort of neighbors, other area businesses, and constant prayer, to resolve the issue. “We are thankful to God first and foremost because there are plenty of businesses in D.C. that are being targeted and closed by people who don’t see their value. It is because of the community and the reputation of the VIP Room for being stewards of the neighborhood that the board granted our license,” Sampson said. “The Board acknowledged that even with the temporary licensing there had [been] no issues or violations, and that our business model has not had a negative impact on quality of life in the community.”
Sampson said that in addition to members of the community who endorsed their bid, Councilmember Brandon Todd (D-Ward 4), the Advisory Neighborhood Commission, the police department and other business owners, including Peaches Watson of Peaches Kitchen Restaurant and Catering, offered testimony on their behalf for the September hearing.
VIP Room neighbor Charlie Lassiter told the AFRO that she has supported the business from the moment the protestors and detractors came forward, and remains steadfast in ensuring the business continues to thrive.
“I am all for people settling into a community, but they need to do so understanding what they are coming into rather than attempting to change things by maligning the characters and reputations of their fellow neighbors,” Lassiter told the AFRO. “I do believe the establishment was targeted, but I also believe that those who lied and schemed to try to keep the Sampsons from getting their license have learned a valuable lesson.”
On the heels of the victory, the Sampson family has vowed to move on – continuing to serve the community that rallied behind them. “They tried to disrespect my father’s legacy and to target us the way they’ve done Black churches and small family businesses throughout the city, but we’ve always followed the rules and been faithful. That is a testimony to how God can fix things,” Sampson told the AFRO. “We want to make a living, but we want to honor God in everything we do. We will continue to ‘watch our backs’ because some folks still are unhappy, but we’re going to continue to follow the rules and give the same courtesy no matter your background or beliefs.”