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With a VIP gala opening, Georgetown's Social Safeway is back on the market

After a yearlong renovation, Georgetown's popular Safeway supermarket hosts a VIP grand reopening event with several of Washington's elite on the guestlist.

Since the '70s, Washingtonians have dubbed this see-and-be-seen landmark the chain's most social store, where singles on the prowl could pick up each other along with their Belgian endive.

Marriages have been made here: Political consultant Greg Lane picked up his future wife, Amy, by the meat case 10 years ago as he scribbled down Emeril Lagasse's recipe for Cajun chicken cacciatore. Dick and Lynne Cheney, Nancy Kissinger, Condi Rice and Jordan's King Abdullah have been spotted in the aisles.

But really, could respectable romance continue to bloom in a windowless one-story brick lump set behind a moat of parking at 1855 Wisconsin Ave. NW? Could hearts beat as one while pools of stormwater collect on the asphalt before washing into the Potomac River? While energy-wasting fluorescent lights glared on the arugula? No. The lump and all its enviro-inertia had to go.

Now most of the parking's underground. Shoppers can canoodle curbside at the pedestrian-friendly sidewalk entrance and stop for a pedicure on the same trip in a gleaming two-story temple of eco-sensitivity. One less car trip, one less gust of carbon dioxide.

This new Social Safeway -- at 71,067 square feet, the biggest and highest-grossing mid-Atlantic store in the chain -- has sunshade screens to allow cool breezes to flow through the aisles. The outside lights are so muted, the good citizens of Georgetown won't know it's there. A surface lot's back wall is an extension of Dumbarton Oaks, all foliage and flora in a green screen. And cooling the frozen eclair cases? No CFC refrigerants here. The cooling system is greener than the broccoli.

Did we mention that unsold produce and other store waste will be composted? Now that's sustainable (of course, Whole Foods does that). Over in the Haagen-Dazs aisle, the freezer cases light up only when the fog-treated doors open. (Take that, Whole Foods.) There's an open-flame hearth oven in the adjoining Starbucks. Flat-screen, high-def TVs are hung throughout, in case CNN commentators want to see themselves from the checkout lane.

No recession guilt is needed here. The Social Safeway may sell $498 bottles of Chateau LaFite Rothschild, but this is not Citronelle. It's just the neighborhood supermarket.

Nor is this the Soviet Safeway off Dupont Circle (so-called for its spare offerings before a remodeling -- the name stuck, however unfairly), the Shoot-'Em-Up Safeway on Capitol Hill (left over from when the neighborhood was crime-plagued), the Senior Safeway at the Watergate (self-explanatory) or even the Sexy Safeway in Mount Vernon Square (the shoppers are young, the neighborhood hot). And it definitely is not your Southwest Safeway, which, until the new Social Safeway opened at 8 a.m. Thursday, had enjoyed for 21 short days an exalted status as the company's "most modern store to date."

You may have missed its opening. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty was there shaking hands with shoppers and posing for photos, but there was no Belvedere vodka fountain.

Not all Safeways are created equally. Nor are they opened equally.

Southwest shoppers had made do for years with long checkout lines, wilted produce, empty bread and milk shelves and stepped-up security, and until last month, the place looked pretty much as it did when it opened in 1980. (This is Georgetown's fourth renovation.)

This was the reality in one of Washington's most forgotten corners, a mix of public housing and drab 1960s-era apartment buildings. When Safeway closed the old store for 12 days to move to the new one next door, bereft shoppers in need of provisions had to trek to the other side of the Southwest Freeway.

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