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Grocery Stores Anchor DC Neighborhoods

Accompanying images can be viewed starting on page 1 of the September 2019 issue pdf

By Larry Ray*

More than ever, DC consists of a network of neighborhoods. Often, a grocery store anchors or transforms the neighborhood. The Whole Foods in the 1400 block of P Street, NW is a prime example of a neighborhood being transformed by a grocery store. Neighbors fought hard for what was then Fresh Fields (later acquired by Whole Foods) to be located at this location, even hiring a marketing expert to persuade.

Today, instead of a store of questionable quality bullet-proof glass at the check-out counter, the neighborhood sports scores of wonderful restaurants and hundreds of luxury apartments and condos.

The Giant at 7th and O Streets, NW and the upgraded Petworth Safeway are other examples.

Four new groceries are set to open in DC during the ensing months; three of them in Northwest.

Columbia Heights Neighborhood LIDL/Target controversy

An employee who works in the headquarters of the Arlington, Virginia-based U.S Division of the German LIDL discount grocery chain who asked not to be named, told this reporter that it sought to open a full-service store in Columbia Heights’ DC-USA mall on at 14th Street and Park Road, but that Target objected so that the DC-USA mall management nixed the idea. Presumably, Target’s objection to having another grocery competing with it inside the enormous mall was that it simply did not want another grocery competing with its own grocery department. Attempts by The InTowner to obtain confirmation from both DC-USA and LIDL were not forthcoming.

Former Columbia Heights local realtor Richard commented, “Too bad, we need to make this work and DC-USA would be perfect. It needs a shot in the arm.” Columbia Heights neighbors reminisce about the DC-USA botched Whole Foods deal years ago. A letter of intent had been proffered by Whole Foods following the DC Council having authorized a tax break sponsored by then Ward 1  Councilmember Jim Graham. Regrettably, the deal fell through over a dispute concerning dedicated parking spaces.

As we reported a little over three years ago, one example was the failed negotiation between Grid and Richmond, Virginia-based Ellwood Thompson’s, a natural and organic foods market. In a recent interview, founder and owner Rick Hood, talked of how the business sources local foods and is guided by sharing community values. He told of what he called his five-year disappointing process, asserting that he was excited about and committed to the neighborhood. Upon signing the lease and spending large sums to architects and for overall preparation leading to opening, in 2008 they were hit with the effects of the severe economic downturn. Because of this reversal, he needed to renegotiate the lease terms; New York City-based Grid Properties, Inc., however, stayed firm and the negotiations failed.

[Editor’s Note: The DC-USA shopping behemoth is DC’s largest retail space at 890,000 square feet. Interestingly, as far back as 2008 when it opened for business, as we reported in a major story that included mention of Ellwood Thompson’s attempt then to be a part of the complex, even then nothing materialed for them – much to the disappointment of the community.]

Responding to our request for comment from Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau, a spokesperson in her office stated in an email that she “continues to work with property owners and community members to foster economic development in Columbia Heights and welcomes new grocery stores. One of her first major acts as Councilmember was to establish a Main Street program in Columbia Heights to support businesses, which is operated by District Bridges. This effort will continue to be essential to the growth of Columbia Heights. New grocery stores continue to open across Ward 1, such as Streets Market and Whole Foods, and programs the Councilmember has supported such as Healthy Corners, continue to make fresh foods accessible in every neighborhood.”

Grocery shopping has changed, especially in DC

Fifth generation District resident Paul comented that “back in the day, there seemed to be a little grocery on every other corner. Residents relied on them and there was very little selection.” Then Safeway and Giant –- supermarkets, actually — began to expand their presence and these stores, especially in the suburbs, were a weekly destination for families to purchase everything they needed for the coming week.

Today, however, especially in DC, grocery shopping differs. It is very common for shoppers to visit a supermarket or one of the remaining neighborhood groceries every other day only buying enough for two days or buying for an event such as dinner party. An especially notable example of this is simply to observe shoppers, particularly Millenials –- the majority of whom are single — every day at the checkout stations are making minimal purchases like a single apple and a pre-made salad or something from the deli department.

Part of what drives this shopping pattern, besides convenience, seems to be influenced by the fact that 42% of DC residents do not own cars and thereby must limit the amount they carry. DC’s non-car ownership is second only to New York City where 57% of households do not own cars. Moreover 88% of new DC households are car free. Columbia Heights resident Kerry, in an email to this reporter, confifrmed this non-car ownership and grocery shopping situation, as follows: “Yes, I usually go to Giant every other day since I don’t have a car and need to be mindful of how much or little I can carry. Beyond this with the convenience of grocery deliverers as Peapod, Fresh Direct, etc., groceries need to make the shopping ‘an experience.’”

So the old supermarket design –- huge single story buildings with lots of off-street parking –- are being replaced with more urban-oriented stores fully incorporated into a neighborhood development., like in the ground floor retail space of the apartment building ythat is part of the O Street Market development in the 1400 block of 7th Street, NW.

Grocery Experience

Based on the changed shopping patterns, going to the grocery needs to be “an experience.” An example of this is the Petworth Safeway on Georgia Avenue. Besides enjoying the flower mart, Starbucks, fish market and bakery, shoppers can enjoy the convenience of UPS, FedEx, and Amazon at this location.

Joseph, a Petworth resident and former ANC 4C chair, described in an email the history in this way:

“The opening of Yes Organic Market on Georgia Avenue in Petworth created additional pressure on the Safeway corporate headquarters to tear down and upgrade a previously worn out, unappealing Safeway two blocks south of Yes Organic’s new location. The Petworth neighborhood knew the old Safeway for having products past the sell-by date on the shelves. The store also smelled. I was one of many people who left the neighborhood to shop for groceries elsewhere in town in those days.

“I knew of people who moved to Petworth in part because of the presence of Yes Organic. Gary Cha, Yes Organic’s owner, told me the Petworth Yes Organic was the second most financially successful store of all his stores. There had been no talk by Safeway to build a new store until Yes Organic had been opened for a while.”

The Shaw Neighborhood will Welcome a New Whole Foods

Neighbors are excited about The Wren development at 965 Florida Avenue, NW. By late 2020, a new Whole Foods will anchor this 433-unit, mixed use project which will include 132 affordable units. Being developed by JBG Smith and Ellis Development, the sales are being handled by MRP Reality. The affordable units are subject to new rules that mandate when DC sells property to developers for residential housing purposes, as here, 30% of units are to be set aside as affordable.

The Wren’s website emphasizes its incorporation of Whole Foods in the project by highlighting thsat the apartments are “[p]erched above a brand new Whole Foods Market in Shaw. . . .”

Glover Park and The Glover House

JBG Smith is developing this project at 2101 Wisconsin Avenue, NW with 225 apartments planned to open later this year. The Glover House complex incorporates the completely rebuilt, eight-story former Holiday Inn which closed in 2015, along with a new, two story retail building with off-street parking.

The retail building’s major tenant is California-based Trader Joe’s which opened in mid July. Of thedir 620 stores nationwide, this is their 17th store in the DC metro area. With 15,000 square feet, the store occupies most of the ground floor of the new building along Wisconsin Avenue.

The opening of this new grocery was enthuiastically greeted by Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh:

“It is always exciting to welcome new businesses to Ward 3 and I’m delighted that Trader Joe’s is now open in Glover Park, especially as the community has missed having a grocery store along the commercial corridor. Trader Joe’s is a company that has been routinely recognized as one the country’s best employers and highest-ranked grocers by its customers, not to mention their sustainability and affordability efforts, and I look forward to a long relationship with our newest community partner.”

Conclusion

Deputy Mayor Deputy Mmayor for Planning and Economic Development Chanda Washington, in response to our request for her thoughts about these developments, wrote:

“Grocery stores continue to serve as anchors in our development projects as they create job opportunities for District residents. As we continue to strengthen our neighborhoods, we know that food access and job creation are at the forefront of what our residents want and need.”

*Senior Writer Larry Ray is a former member of both the Dupont Circle and Columbia Heights Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, served as president of the North Coulbia Heights Civic Association, and is Senior Adjunct Faculty at The George Washington University School of Law teaching negotiation for the past 33 years.

Copyright © 2019 InTowner Publishing Corp. & Larry Ray. All rights reserved.