Ward 8 Welcomes More Than a Market
Saturday, December 8, 2007
Bunches of balloons drifted toward the ceiling, violinists serenaded the crowd, and camera crews jostled as the mayor and a gaggle of politicians preened.
The occasion: the grand opening of a supermarket.
Not just any supermarket, but one the length of a football field, in the middle of the District's poorest ward, where the last full-service grocery closed nearly a decade ago.
District leaders celebrated yesterday's christening of a Giant in Ward 8 as fresh evidence of a renaissance unfolding east of the Anacostia River.
Since a Safeway shut down in 1998, residents have had to travel outside Ward 8 to shop for groceries in adjoining neighborhoods and the suburbs, a trek that symbolized their sense of isolation.
Although the ward's 70,000 residents still have far fewer food options than people in any other area of the city, community leaders and residents said the new Giant is a profound step forward.
"I'm elated," said Hannah Hawkins, a Ward 8 resident for nearly 50 years, standing near the cashier stations at the front of 22 aisles of offerings. "After long suffering, going everywhere else, catching cabs, buses and rides to Virginia and Maryland, now we've got our own. Just to share in the revitalization is wonderful."
A few aisles away, Virginia Major, a retired geologist, eyed the produce with delight. "Look at those greens. Gorgeous!" she said, adding that she hopes the Giant's opening will encourage other supermarkets to set up shop in Southeast. "We need more, and we need them spread out."
Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) was among the political leaders who attended the Giant ribbon-cutting at Stanton Road and Alabama Avenue in Congress Heights, a neighborhood that hardly resembles the one that existed five years ago. Across the street, hundreds of units of barracks-style public housing have been razed, replaced by a mix of market-rate and subsidized homes.
The Giant shopping center also will feature Ward 8's first full-service, sit-down restaurant: an IHOP partly owned by a police officer who patrols Southeast. "The first supermarket in Ward 8? Heavens!" Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) told the crowd. "Destinations shouldn't just be on the other side of the Anacostia River. Here is a destination."
Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) was mayor in 1983, when the District paid the federal government $1.8 million for the 25-acre parcel where the Giant is located, on land once known as Camp Simms, a National Guard base.
For years, Barry and community leaders sought to spur development on the property, but all the talk and all the meetings produced only more talk and more meetings.