Georgetown's 'Social Safeway' to reopen Thursday larger, greener and posher

By Lisa Rein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A year after it was torn down, a new green, pedestrian-friendly Safeway will reopen in upper Georgetown on Thursday, becoming the District's largest supermarket.

The 71,067-square-foot supermarket at 1855 Wisconsin Ave. NW, dubbed the "Social Safeway" because of the number of single people who shop there, will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Unlike the old windowless store, which was almost 50 percent smaller and sat behind a parking lot, the new one occupies the second floor of an airy brick building with a balcony overlooking the street. It's the first Safeway in the District to offer catering and the third full-service store to open in Washington in 20 months.

Two weeks ago, Southwest Washington residents welcomed a 54,134-square-foot store just steps from the Waterfront-SEU Metro station with many of the same amenities, and another store opened in the CityVista complex in Mount Vernon Triangle in September 2008.

But with shoppers looking for more from their grocery store -- and Georgetown shoppers having the highest incomes in the District -- the new Safeway is a deluxe market.

After an invitation-only gala Wednesday night, the store will open to the public at 8 a.m. Thursday, with a climate-controlled wine cellar stocking 2,500 bottles, an open-flame hearth oven baking artisan breads, a personalized birthday and wedding-cake service and flat-screen televisions. The company's third "urban lifestyle" store in the District also features a sit-down sushi bar, gourmet cheese department, gelato stand and a carousel grinding fresh nuts.

Safeway officials declined to disclose the cost of the renovation, but the Georgetown store, the company's 16th in the District, has for years been its most profitable.

Safeway hopes Georgetown will become the city's first grocery store certified as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design green building. The site features vegetation systems to filter rainwater, a white membrane laid on the roof to avoid the heat-island effect of black asphalt, energy-saving refrigerants and composting of old produce.

"They're taking a page from the Whole Foods playbook," said Bob Goldin, executive vice president of Technomic, a food consulting firm in Chicago. "They're tailoring the store to neighborhood demands: Youthful, liberal, socially conscious, environmentally conscious."

The region's No. 2 grocer, which had annual sales of $40.8 billion last year, has faced growing competition from high-end specialty stores such as Whole Foods -- less than a mile up Wisconsin Avenue -- and affordable grocers such as Costco and Wegmans. Landover-based Giant, with a store north of the Whole Foods, also is rebranding itself, remodeling about 100 stores with expanded selections.

More than 1,000 VIPs, from senators to television commentators, were invited to the cocktail gala. The company has spent heavily on media buys and other publicity. Company executives say they've lost customers to other grocery stores in the past year. They hope it's temporary.

"It won't be a problem to get them back," said Timothy Baker, vice president of real estate for the company's eastern division. "You can't buy Coca-Cola at Whole Foods. If you want a scoop of gelato, you cant get it. We're more in-depth."

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