Cousin Willie watched Mayor Marion Barry pose for the television cameras inside the new Grand Farmers Market that opened in the shell of a Safeway store that left the Southeast neighborhood seven years ago.
Cousin Willie, or more formally known as Willie E. Kirk, owns the mall of stalls with groceries, junk foods, jewelry, pinball machines, clothing and an expansive meat market at 4801 Benning Rd. S.E. It will serve the neighborhood's residents who say they have to walk 10 blocks to Coral Hills or 20 blocks to Minnesota Avenue to buy food.
"I had two meat stands in the D.C. Farmers Market on 6th and Florida Ave. and after being there about four years, I kind of got my own dreams together," Kirk said."It was a dream, merely a dream."
Yesterday Mayor Barry and other city and federal dignitaries verbally toasted the opening of the market.
But Barry and Councilwoman Willie J. Hardy warned neighborhood residents against stealing from the store, one of the reasons, they said the Safeway left in 1973.
"This venture can only succeed if we support it," Barry said. "It can only succeed if we go in and purchase things . . . if we go and tell our neighbors and friends to go in."
Barry also admonished the dozens of youngsters who crowded in and around the large red brick market to discipline themselves "and not put some candy in your pockets."
"I think it's fine," said Virginia Morris, a neighborhood resident. "But I do know we're going to need the kind of security that will discourage people from pilfering, which was one reason they closed the Safeway."
Kirk said he planned to have closed-circuit television surveillance of the market stalls and aisles and a security guard on duty at all times.
The market has 22 stalls that rent from about $95 a week for a small crochet and handicraft shop to $260 a week for a grocery store. Prices in the grocery were a great deal higher than those at the chain stores. For example, a package of Charmin brand bathroom tissue sold for $1.35 at the Safeway. Prune juice sold for $1.49 can be bought for $1.25 elsewhere.
The prices "are a little bit high," Kirk said. "Those prices will be readjusted, and we haven't yet had time to get them down with the competition." r
The farmer's market is supposed to generate about $36,000 a year in revenue for the city and provide up to 40 additional jobs.
Kirk received a $483,000 mortgage from Washington Federal Savings and Loan with a 90 percent guarantee from the Small Business Administration. He also received a $50,000 loan from Riggs National Bank, a $65,000 direct loan from the SBA and $35,000 loan from the nonprofit D.C. Development Corp.
The market sells fresh meat and fish, including soul food such as hog maws and beef tripe.
Supermarket sales for the first year are projected at about $1.2 million, and rent from the stalls is expected to exceed $15,000, according to city officials.
"We need economic development in our city," Barry said. "And we need food. We are food-poor in some areas of our city."