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Where could a small grocery store thrive in Ward 8?

The Yes! Organic Market in DC's Fairlawn neighborhood has struggled to survive, and Anacostia's only grocery store recently closed. Why can't grocery stores thrive here? Mainly, economics. But one spot could work.

There are many factors that determine the success of a retail enterprise, including marketing, accessibility, visibility, competition, demographics, and location. Yes! Organic may have been difficult to access for westbound drivers, and it could certainly have benefited from an improved outreach campaign, but the fundamental challenge for the store is that it is located in an area with low aggregate income, a result of relatively low household incomes and the presence of relatively few households.

Much of the area around Fairlawn's Yes! is undeveloped (Anacostia Park and River, Fort Dupont Park, etc.), and the developed blocks are low- to medium-density. The graphic above helps illustrate how the purchasing power the store's service area compares with those of other grocery outlets in the city.

The Anacostia Warehouse Supermarket closed its doors because the former owner sold the property. The buyer is optimistic about the site's potential, but in a presentation to the Historic Anacostia Block Association in February of this year, he all but ruled out the possibility of bringing in another grocery store. He said that the potential grocery tenants he spoke with were deterred by the presumed arrival of Walmart at Skyland, just up the street.

Does the eventual presence of two full-service grocery stores at the top of the hill mean that Ward 8's flatland neighborhoods will be forever without their own market? If there is a location best suited for a store to fill the gap, it is at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Ave SE and Howard Rd SE, immediately adjacent to the Anacostia Metrorail station and Metrobus hub, and the meeting point for the Anacostia, Hillsdale, and Barry Farm neighborhoods.

The ideal, and most feasible, site for new development at this intersection is the vast lot owned by Bethlehem Baptist Church, currently used as parking. It is not uncommon for churches, often major landowners, to develop the land they own for a purpose consistent with their mission.

Matthews Memorial Baptist Church, two blocks from Bethlehem, recently oversaw the development of a new affordable housing complex on one of their parcels. Across town, at 10th and G Streets NW, the First Congregational United Church of Christ was part of a redevelopment team that delivered a new facility for the church on the ground floors of an office building.

Bethlehem Baptist lot. Photo by the author.

By developing their vacant land as housing, office space, or a community or spiritual facility, with ground floor retail including a grocery store to replace the shuttered Anacostia Warehouse Supermarket, Bethlehem Baptist Church, and its pastor Reverend James E. Coates, DC's inaugural Ward 8 councilmember, could cement a legacy in the District while doing a huge service to their neighbors in the heart of Ward 8.

Cross-posted at R. U. Seriousing Me?

Chris Dickersin-Prokopp spends his days in Anacostia and nights in Petworth. He studied Latin American Studies and Urban Planning. He runs the blog R.U. Seriousing Me? and occasionally contributes to the Washington City Paper


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Any thoughts on how the new Wal-Mart moving in would affect any local grocery stores (present or future)? Assuming that success of a locally-owned neighborhood grocery store depends mostly on the "aggregate income of service area" is a heck of an assumption. There are many other factors at work.

by Matt Ashburn on Dec 18, 2012 10:39 am • linkreport

Awesome maps. Here's another view of local groceries -- I updated my own Google map to show grocery stores using their logos (the map was made for bikeshops, but also does groceries).

by M.V. Jantzen on Dec 18, 2012 10:40 am • linkreport

where isn't so much the question. How is the question. And what (type of store) is the question. I am going to do a follow up post to my post from Friday on this issue. A traditional store won't work, in all likelihood, for various reasons.

And the problem that most people ignore is that people are already buying groceries now. They have access to cars or transit to buy. They're eating aren't they? So whether there is real demand for another store is an important question, especially as there is a Giant store on Alabama Ave. in Congress Heights, that most people can probably get to.

My post will about alternative store organization models and broader questions about creating a system of markets that can serve low income communities.

by Richard Layman on Dec 18, 2012 10:40 am • linkreport

I wonder how many retailers use GIS technology the way you did to analyze their potential market. I really like how well you've portrayed the data. I do have a question, though: On the first graphic, what is the far right map of DC (with the green dots) supposed to be showing?
And what other evidence do you have to show that the MLK/Howard site is more suitable for a grocery store than the other two spots (or any other spot, for that matter)?

by Chris on Dec 18, 2012 10:45 am • linkreport

This is a great proposal that really cuts through a lot of the issues. I do feel that supermarkets also need to be aware of some cultural/socioeconomic differences in buying patterns at least based on what I have observed having lived in different parts of the city. Income aside, I can't believe someone thought an organic market would have the same market share in Anacostia that it does in Dupont or U St.

by Alan B. on Dec 18, 2012 10:51 am • linkreport

My post will about alternative store organization models

As so many people in DC are keen to remind us, they do not want retail of any kind in their immediate neighborhood. The relatively low density of Ward 8 is attractive because people do not want the feel of living in what they associate with a "city." The number of corner stores that would be needed to support neighborhood access to groceries would be a non-starter.

by JustMe on Dec 18, 2012 10:53 am • linkreport

You could put a YES! in Ward 7 and replace that nasty Murray's on Minnesota. It's got parking and is within walking distance to 2 subways. With the new apartments, we may attract a better crowd. Just a thought.

by WhoSaidWhat on Dec 18, 2012 10:59 am • linkreport

Just to be clear, the recent Housing Complex article noted the Anacostia Warehouse Supermarket may have an organic food store (amount other tenants) once renovations are completed.

When I was down there a couple of weeks ago they were gutting it (this is right after it was closed) and they have an HVAC truck down there.

The old grocery needed a lot of work. This will probably a large net positive for Anacostia.

by H Street LL on Dec 18, 2012 11:02 am • linkreport

Is there actually evidence that people in Anacostia have higher rates of car ownership? I know what it's like to be carless and only have access to a few substandard grocery options. Very disheartening.

by Alan B. on Dec 18, 2012 11:04 am • linkreport

I get the appeal of a local "n'hood" grocer but not convinced that Anacostia will lose out if another one doesn't replace the Anacostia Warehouse. While the n'hood itself does not have it's own local grocer, as the author stated, there is already the Safeway at the top of the hill, there will be Walmart and the Giant (as RL mentioned) is at Alabama and Stanton. All three are easily accessible to those w/in Anacostia.

The suggested locations are good one as they will be along the streetcar route and considering the almost 400k Cityhomes at Sheridan, they're going to have to do some further development. I only question whether a local grocery store is the answer.

by HogWash on Dec 18, 2012 11:09 am • linkreport

According to this: (admittedly not my own) the area has some of the lowest rates (as of 2000) of car ownership in the district. That alone seems to call for neighborhood grocery.

by Alan B. on Dec 18, 2012 11:23 am • linkreport

Seems to be an omission that Costco is excluded? This is accessible to W7 easily, and the prices/quality you can get will far exceed what Safeway or Giant will offer.

by Kyle-W on Dec 18, 2012 11:47 am • linkreport

As long as they stock sweet neon-colored sodas and sodium-heavy snack foods, they will survive.

by Anastasia Anacostia on Dec 18, 2012 12:12 pm • linkreport

Seems to be an omission that Costco is excluded?

Costco requires a membership...perhaps an issue in the ward with the lowest household income?

by Vicente Fox on Dec 18, 2012 12:15 pm • linkreport

Seems to be an omission that Costco is excluded? This is accessible to W7 easily, and the prices/quality you can get will far exceed what Safeway or Giant will offer.

Which Costco are you referring to that would be easily accessible to W7?

by HogWash on Dec 18, 2012 12:19 pm • linkreport

Interesting analysis. Once Sherridan Station is complete and Barry Farm redevelopment starts that would be a great location for a grocery story. It's just far enough from the Giant, Safeway and new Walmart. As Richard Layman pointed it will come down to the type of grocery store. A store like a Trader Joe's would bring people from the Capitol Hill area.

by Veronica O. Davis (Ms V) on Dec 18, 2012 12:28 pm • linkreport

There should be 5-10 Aldi's in Ward 8.

by Tom Coumaris on Dec 18, 2012 12:35 pm • linkreport

DC should just limit liquor licenses to grocery stores similar to the setup at the Safeway at 14th st SE. I'm not sure how existing locations would be compensated, but giving grocery stores a limited monopoly might make their business models work in more economically depressed areas.

by Nicoli on Dec 18, 2012 12:44 pm • linkreport

A store like a Trader Joe's would bring people from the Capitol Hill area.

Trader Joe's could've fared much better if it were in the same location as Yes!

The biggest challenge to Yes! wasn't the location. It was the actual store.

by HogWash on Dec 18, 2012 12:51 pm • linkreport

BTW, what is Aldi and is there one in DC?

by HogWash on Dec 18, 2012 1:04 pm • linkreport

@HogWash, Aldi's is a German grocery chain that is sort of like Trader Joes, with high-quality house brands at super cheap prices. It is especially cheap, probably less than Trader Joes; I was there for the first time a few weeks ago and many things that cost $x at Safeway cost $x/2 at Aldi's.

I think part of its price advantage is the "off the beaten track" sort of real estate locations. The DC store is on Maryland Ave behind the Hechinger's Mall, in Langston.

It has its quirks, like you have to leave slip in a quarter to get a cart, which you get back when you return the cart. Can't argue with the quality and the prices, though.

by goldfish on Dec 18, 2012 1:22 pm • linkreport

Every Aldi US store is pretty much identical. They usually open in low income or blue collar US neighborhoods. Their store size is much smaller than most (about the size of a small CVS or Rite-Aid) but they get a large amount of high quality products and produce out through various economies like cardboard boxes instead of shelves. They have an extremely low overhead through things like quarter deposits for carts. An Aldi store usually has only about 3 or 4 employees on duty at any time. A perfect small-neighborhood walkable store.

Their prices are nothing short of amazing and their European imported goods quality is surprising (a lot of Trader Joe's-type stuff- they own Trader Joe's.)

I'm pretty sure Aldi is the largest grocer in the world.

by Tom Coumaris on Dec 18, 2012 2:04 pm • linkreport

I agree with the other posters, Aldi is probably the best option. Aldi is out of the way for me so I really don't shop there, but the few times I went I was able to cut my grocery bill by about 40-50%. With the exception of their fit and active brand, however, there really isn't much in the way of healthy/organic food. More just sort of typical grocery fare. Still, better options and much cheaper than a neighborhood corner store.

by Nicoli on Dec 18, 2012 2:42 pm • linkreport

@Gold...the fact that its behind Hechinger explains why I never knew it was there. Did it replace the Safeway?

Sounds like an ALDI would be a good fit somewhere EOTR...if not in several places.

by HogWash on Dec 18, 2012 2:55 pm • linkreport

Aldi's has its merits, but...

Not enough high-quality fresh food, generally. They've got some, and it's passable, but it's the kind-of-typical low-budget store where there are more options in beef jerky than all the produce combined, and all that produce is bulk-packaged and kinda iffy. Of the stores I've been in, none have a refrigerated produce section, for example. It's actually not all that different from Trader Joe's, as noted (and you can probably guess where I come down on Trader Joe's, despite its yuppie/hipster cred).

In other cities I've lived in, poorer neighborhoods rich with recent immigrants were always the best places to shop. We could get a wide variety of fresh fruits and veggies - often exotic stuff - at reasonable prices. A wide variety of bulk grains were available. And the stores usually still covered basic grocery needs, so we didn't have to go to a "specialty shop" for the good stuff and a generic grocer for peanut butter or generic ranch dressing. Shoppers *sometimes* fits this bill, but I'd kill for a Market Basket around these parts.

by Ms. D on Dec 18, 2012 3:28 pm • linkreport

Chris -- every retailer uses far more sophisticated GIS and market data tools than this.

2. Aldi has a store on Central Ave. I think in PG and would not likely open one in W8, especially with WM coming, especially as their sales at the store on 18th St. NE are much less than their store on Central Ave.

I like Aldi actually for basic stuff (a lot of their products I don't like) but the prices on some things are nothing short of amazing. But why pay more for dishwashing soap or dijon mustard equivalent when you can get it there.

In my blog entry about the failure of Yes! I did discuss Sav-a-lot (the AEDC discussed them in the context of the A Warehouse Supermarket awhile back, etc.).

But Tom, there's hardly the market for one Aldi, let alone 8-10. They like a large RTA. Probably 5 miles in radius.

I'm wrong, 3 miles. See

Theoretically, you could say 2 per ward, but it doesn't work that way.

Again, the general point is that a lot of these conversations are disconnected from how retailers think and approach markets. Everyone wants a grocery store in their neighborhood, but to get to $500,000/week + in sales, you can't have them that frequently. Companies mostly like larger stores, e.g., the Giant or the Safeways that serve that area.

Anyway, based on reported numbers, their average store sales are close to $6 million/year.

That's why the issue is what to offer and how. The problem is that the mainline companies don't have appropriate formats that fit, with the exception of Sav-A-Lot. But that store brand doesn't have community building elements.

by Richard Layman on Dec 18, 2012 3:33 pm • linkreport

poorer neighborhoods rich with recent immigrants were always the best places to shop

Unfortunately, the hostility of a large number of the resident's of Ward 8 against non-black-owned businesses precludes the establishment of such establishments in that area. In fact, the CM from that area said: “We got to do something about these Asians coming in and opening up businesses and dirty shops. They ought to go.” Once pushed out, the CM promised, he would replace the foreign invaders with “African-American business people.”

by Vinh An Nguyen on Dec 18, 2012 3:45 pm • linkreport

Tom/RL. Thanks! Pretty interesting stuff!

by HogWash on Dec 18, 2012 4:14 pm • linkreport

AFAIK, Market Basket is owned by an Italian family. While it is true that DC doesn't really have a neighborhood that would support that kind of store, a girl can dream, can't she? Then we'd all have access to quality food we could afford.

by Ms. D on Dec 18, 2012 6:43 pm • linkreport

Vinh An Nguyen -- see my recent post on this subject, it actually has some pathbreaking discussion linking use value of place and kinship networks to this issue of retailers as social welfare organizations and the animus against people of different ethnic groups both as related to "low income communities." I really should have written two different posts, but the ideas started out intertwined.

by Richard Layman on Dec 18, 2012 7:15 pm • linkreport

Aldi's has its merits, but...

Not enough high-quality fresh food, generally.

Surprisingly, frozen fruits and veggies are actually more nutritious than fresh ones. Personally, when I do the cooking I use mostly frozen veggies. I'd like to say the main reason is nutrition but the real reason is that I'm lazy and live close to Trader Joe's which has the best selection of high quality frozen fruits and veggies.

Anyway, frozen fruits and veggies are probably better suited for areas with lower incomes, so I wouldn't say the lack of fresh produce is a huge knock against Aldis, or even Trader Joes (which doesn't have a great selection either).

by Falls Church on Dec 18, 2012 11:26 pm • linkreport

@HogWash: Did it replace the Safeway? No, the Safeway is still there. Aldi's is on the next block.

by goldfish on Dec 18, 2012 11:44 pm • linkreport

The thing about Aldi is some of their products are good (regular produce items, standard items such as mustard or sugar or canned vegetables or cream cheese) and some aren't all that great (tortillas--just really "manufactured"--Mission and the other product that Safeway sells that is regional are much much much better despite the fact that the Aldi product is half the price, frozen green beans, etc.).

I don't remember why I didn't like their frozen green beans--maybe a lot of broken beans--it was many years ago. But the experience was such that I didn't want to try other frozen products there.

Actually, I have the same issue with Trader Joes. Some of their products (dough for pizza) are really gross. Others are seemingly well priced but this is partly an illustion because the package sizes are nonstandard.

by Richard Layman on Dec 19, 2012 5:57 am • linkreport

Aldi does have a decent amount of very good fresh produce. (33c/lb bananas!)

I haven't seen the new DC store but stop at the one on Queens Chapel Road next to Pizza Hut on my way to UMD sometimes.

Here's a list of area Aldi stores and a link to their ad:

Too bad Aldi US wants a 3-mile radius. They also want parking lots. Otherwise they're the perfect neighborhood walk-to grocery.

by Tom Coumaris on Dec 19, 2012 10:12 am • linkreport

Aldi has lots of urban locations in other cities like Chicago. they and TJ's are owned by different branches of the same family. they are not the same company, but they do operate as variations on a similar model--low cost, high volume stores with limited, sometimes quirky selection. Sav-A-Lot is a franchise that often does well in inner city locations and often takes over old supers or drug store sites. They often have very limited fresh foods. They're franchised by SuperValu which owns Shoppers. they have several stores in PG County.

by Rich on Dec 19, 2012 11:10 am • linkreport

For anyone interested, this is the dataset I used and have been continuing to add to:

You should be able to sort the data by column header.

If you can think of any other grocery store in DC or in the MD suburbs within a mile (+/-) of the DC line, please add it to this list. Thanks!

by Chris DP on Dec 19, 2012 11:15 am • linkreport

no such thing as a "perfect" walk to neighborhood grocery. Because, as the new urbanists fail to acknowledge, what they/you say is necessary and how store organization and logistics models work don't support a store on that scale. It'd have to be half the size etc.

The issue is how many people you need to support the kind of store you want and the population densities to produce it (only neighborhoods in places like Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn have the densities to support such stores). I've written about this a lot and will tomorrow. It's about scaling up from the convenience store model, adding fresh and nonperishable foods and potentially cafe. But the missing link is the supply chain and store systems that enable the provision of such stores, and the reality is that traditional supermarket chains or convenience store groups lack the motivation or interest to do this.

I thought that was what Fresh & Easy was going to do this kind of store. But it wasn't what they intended, failing anyway. But they focused on middle and higher income consumers in traditional locations, not in-city urban locations.

by Richard Layman on Dec 19, 2012 11:23 am • linkreport

@Chris DP

Did you reach out to the church and Rev. Coates?

@Miss V - Barry Farm Redevelopment is nowhere near to getting started and Sheridan Station's ability to attract folks without EBT cards is yet to be determined.

by Rock Creek on Dec 19, 2012 4:45 pm • linkreport

You forgot an important data point---Yes! failed because it has stupid over-priced stuff.

by beatbox on Dec 19, 2012 5:23 pm • linkreport

I don't know that FROZEN fruits and veggies are "more" nutritious than fresh. They might be equally so, depending on the item. But one thing is sure, they're not as flavorful or flexible. If I buy a bunch of fresh broccoli (let's assume it's the type with the longer stems, a "bunch" rather than a "crown"), I could eat most of it raw, steam it, sauté it, boil it, or even blanche it and freeze it for later use. I could use the tough stems to make soup or stock. In all of those cases except blanche and freeze, it will taste better than frozen from a bag. Yes, I usually keep a few bags of frozen veggies in my freezer for lazy dinners, but they don't taste nearly as good as something fresh. Frozen fruits are great for making a pastry or sauce, but they have no structure after being frozen, and are not particularly pleasing on their own, unlike fresh fruits. You can't well toss a frozen peach in your kid's backpack like you could with a fresh one.

Having good access to frozen fruits and veggies is better than having NO access to fruits and veggies, but it's not the same thing as having access to fresh ones. There are budget stores that provide access to fresh fruits and veggies, and, yes, I'd prefer to see those over chains carrying a lot of salty, fatty, over-processed stuff and a handful of frozen fruit and veggie options. Sure, Aldi *has* a produce section, but it's really not that good. Yes, it's cheap. Yes, it can supply some basics. But the quality and variety is lacking. Not every neighborhood can support a Whole Foods or something like that. But I've BEEN to lower-income neighborhoods where grocers were able to provide a wide variety of fresh, healthful foods. We shopped there specifically because we could get good foods at a reasonable price. I'm not suggesting we re-invent the wheel, and Aldi's is not the worst thing ever, but we could do better. Other communities ARE doing better, what makes us so different from them?

by Ms. D on Dec 19, 2012 10:36 pm • linkreport

Here's a question how many people actually shop at small grocery stores vs Safeway or Giant and why.I have no loyalty to any store local or not so that is not my concern.

I personally have never shopped at a small store due to them not having foods that I like (my foods are not highend or ethnic). Small stores simply don't sell the fruits that I consume nor some other foods)

People tend to go where

1 It is covenant (that could be for drive, bus, rail or walking) you don't know what the people of the area prefer you have to find out.

2 Are the prices reasonable(some people may pay more others wont)

3 Foods they actually eat are sold (aka cater to clientele and area, what percentage of the people in the area would buy some products sold at Yes or Whole Foods such as Goat Milk, Wine or the many types of Cheese)

by kk on Dec 22, 2012 2:40 pm • linkreport

kk -- you must eat weird stuff. E.g., I go to PanAm International on 14th Street NW because it has great prices for produce. Is the store super pretty. Absolutely not. Mostly it's Hispanics, but you do see the occasional African-American or whitey who understands the price-value equation.

It kills me to pay $1 (Giant) or $1.70 (Whole Foods) for cilantro when I can get it there for 2 or 3/$1. Same with limes (6-10/$1) and lemons. Bulk onions, potatoes, squash, etc. are typically much cheaper. Same with Goya black bean soup, etc.

H Mart is a small store. But wow, if I am in the neighborhood, I will go there. Way better than Pan Am in terms of store quality (not WF though) but always packed...

Magruders on CT Ave. is a microstore. But for the items they carry (mostly fruits and vegetables), the prices are quite good.


by Richard Layman on Dec 22, 2012 5:01 pm • linkreport

@ Richard Layman

Several fruits that I dont sometimes see at stores are
1 kiwifruit (any type),
2 any type of berries or false berries besides Strawberries or Blueberries
3 papaya (you would think you could find this in a hispanic store guess again)
4 guava (same as with the papaya)
5 mango
5 any type of pear that is not a bartlett
6 any type of banana that is not a cavendish

It is hard to find these even at national major chain stores though many foods have these fruits in them.

Its damn near impossible to find a fig, date, yam (not sweet potato)or mulberry (which grow here; I have a better chance of finding a mulberry tree than finding the fruit in a store)

Its not like I'm asking for a Durian or a Starfruit. H Mart is most definitely a ethnic store as they carry mostly Korean foods and you would rarely find Asian foods from other places and the website has Korean all over it. I went there before asking for fruits from Western Asian, Southeast Asia and the Pacific; the person was about to slip up and say what the hell is that.

One big thing that had me shocked is when the Harris Teeter in Noma open they had Loquats but I couldn't find a Kiwifruit which is probably eaten by 10 or 20 times more people in this country

by kk on Dec 24, 2012 12:43 am • linkreport

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