The complaint goes back years: Prince George’s County residents can’t seem to get the shopping options their neighbors around the Washington region seem to have in spades.
Usually, the complaint refers to retail stores. But the residents of Clinton sighed a collective gasp recently when they were informed that
their neighborhood Giant Food would be replaced by Grand Mart, an unfamiliar — and unwanted — discount store. It was all too familiar as they echoed similar concerns of Bowie residents, who this year lost a Gap store — a middle-class community amenity that a middle-class county deserves.
Some Clinton residents attended a community meeting with developers and their County Council member last week to hear about why the store was closing and what the future held. Residents — largely seniors from two nearby apartment buildings — said security issues at the Clinton Plaza seemed to be the main culprit, a reason why some did not shop there. They said the location lacked sufficient lighting and police presence. The developers defended their position and, to their credit, later reported that suspects were arrested after a break-in at the defunct Giant this week. Still, the break-in would make it even more difficult to attract a replacement for the Giant there.
As I waited for last week’s meeting to begin, smiling at the seniors streaming in — some of them using canes, at least one toting an oxygen tank — I wondered how community leaders, community planners and the developers who knew Giant’s lease would be up at the end of August had failed to provide such a basic staple. Why is it that in some communities, bigger, better, state-of-the-art stores open even before the old ones close, making sure there’s no interruption of essential services — but not in Clinton?
Chatting quietly with a few folks as we waited for the meeting to begin, I heard of hopes that the Southern Hospital expansion would draw more high-income residents, who would help attract more high-end retailers. I heard complaints about the short notice residents received about the Giant closing and got an earful about a rumor regarding an Aldi replacing Giant.
“We do not want another down-scale store, and we feel that Aldi is down-scale,” Theresa Johnson of Clinton told me as we waited for the meeting to begin. “We’re tired of down-scale stores in our community.” Besides, she added, Aldi sells food in bulk. “Seniors don’t buy in bulk.”
I asked a young woman sitting behind me, Kim Sutton of Clinton, why she came. “The seniors can’t cross the highway to go to the Shoppers [Food Warehouse] or Safeway further down,” she said, noting the challenged of crossing the very busy Branch Avenue. Her mother is one of the seniors who need the convenience, and independence, of being able to walk to a grocery store. “Without a grocery store and a pharmacy, they’ll have to catch a cab,” Sutton said, an added expense for individuals on fixed incomes. The Giant had been there since Sutton arrived in the community in 1981. Sutton said they learned the store would be closing only about a week before it did.
A crowd of more than a few dozen — mostly seniors bused in from the two senior facilities most affected, Clinton Manor and Branch Tower — listened respectfully as council member Mel Franklin (D-District 9) of Upper Marlboro assured them that he’s on their side. He had, in fact, provided the transportation for seniors that evening.
“I think Clinton deserves a world-class grocery store. I think we should shoot for the stars. We want a Whole Foods,” he said. Then, turning to two Regency representatives, he suggested the developers should want the same thing, too. “If Wegmans approached them, they’re not going to turn them down. But we can’t force them to come. We need to send a message that we want the caliber of grocery store that we deserve. How do we send that message? How do we work with Regency to send retailers a message?” He acknowledged that there’s too much discount retail in Clinton.
Before the audience could ask questions and offer suggestions, members would hear from two Regency representatives, who explained that they had hosted Wegmans for a site visit, but the grocer didn’t bite. “It’s hard to get Wegmans to come to a Kmart-centered plaza. Other retailers don’t want to be Kmart’s coattails, said Rich Suptphin, a Regency vice president and regional officer for asset management and leasing. He seemed to sweat while explaining the challenge of attracting a high-end grocer.
The economy is bad, and it took Bowie five years to replace its Giant when the economy was good, he said. Residents demanded that he tell them what store would replace Giant and when. They also let him know they would have preferred to have had a community meeting before their grocery store closed.
Sutphin and his partner Brian J. Green, a Regency senior leasing agent, danced awkwardly around the information they knew would get them hammered. The audience grew impatient with the presentation.
“Tell us the name of the replacement!” someone shouted.
Sonsyrea Tate Montgomery is a regular contributor to The RootDC .
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