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Residents Rally over Grocery Store Closing

Norma Porter | 3/3/2010, 10:58 a.m.

District residents in Ward 5 are outraged over a food store chain€s decision to close one of its stores after serving the community for more than 30 years.

The Safeway in the Rhode Island Avenue Shopping Center in Northeast is scheduled to close Sat., March 6. The pharmacy closed last week.

€This Safeway closing is going to affect a lot of people in the neighborhood, especially the people that live in Edgewood who walk down with their baskets,€ Jimmie Boykin, a Ward 5 resident, said.

Boykin, 67, said that he has shopped at the Safeway for years. But many senior citizens in Ward 5 who live in the Edgewood and Brentwood communities, Boykin said, will no longer be able to walk to the store with their pushcarts.

€This Safeway and the Giant are the only grocery stores in the neighborhood,€ he said.

€But now [that the Safeway is closing] the seniors are going to have to catch buses and it€s going to be rough on them.€

Craig Muckle, Safeway manager of public and government relations said that Safeway decided to close the store due to loss of revenue.

€This store has not made a profit in the last 10 years,€ Muckle said.

€The bottom line is that we don€t like to close a store because that indicates a failure on our part. We don€t take these decisions lightly.€

Safeway lost customers when a new Giant was built in 2002 in a strip mall with other stores coveted by suburban areas like Home Depot, Muckle said.

Stores like Payless and Subway in the Rhode Island Avenue Shopping Center, Muckle said, did not send enough foot traffic to the Safeway.

But Ward 5 Council member Harry Thomas disagrees. Thomas said that Safeway did not invest enough money in the store to compete with the new Giant.

€Their last investment was over five to seven years ago,€ Thomas said.

€There€s been no major renovation and that has made them non-competitive over time.€

Thomas also noted that the Safeway€s lack of investment in the store has caused shoppers to seek other options because of sanitation concerns.

The D.C. Department of Health ordered the store to close temporarily Wed., Jan. 20 because of rodent infestation and mouse droppings.

Thomas, along with other community leaders, held a rally, Mon., Feb. 15 to oppose Safeway€s decision to close the store and called for quality food shopping options.

€I€m advocating not for the store as it is, but the store as it should be. They had those [rodent] problems because they haven€t invested in the site,€ he said.

€This [the store€s closing] is a prime example of lack of investment that has led to some negative outcomes and the poor stocking of good, quality products like fresh fruits and vegetables.€

Dorris N. Green, a 35-year Ward 5 resident, echoed Thomas€ sentiment.

€The store has been going downhill for the past eight years. There€s a lack of fresh produce, the vegetables are withered, and the meat is refrozen and brown-looking,€ Green, 83, said.

Marshall Phillips, an ANC Commissioner for Ward 5, said that the Safeway closure is a small piece in the city government€s and Vanguard Realty, the owner of the strip mall, plan to push low-income, African Americans out of Ward 5.

The Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development€s Great Street Initiative will redevelop Rhode Island Avenue in Northeast from 3rd Street to Eastern Avenue in 10 to 20 years.

€We don€t want to claim race or class as a factor, but it surely looks that way,€ Phillips said.

€They want Washington€s face to change not from black to white, but to green. If you don€t have any money, you don€t need to be here.€

Thomas has redirected his energies on securing another grocer to replace the Safeway. €We are looking at Shoppers and a few out-of-area stores that want to come into the market place,€ Thomas said.