Giant Food Inc. will pull out of the Richmond market this weekend and is negotiating to sell its three stores there to arch rival Safeway.

Giant's press representative, Sue Portnoy, said the chain decided to close the Richmond stores because "there was just no room to grow in the Richmond market, and without growth our stores would eventually become unprofitable."

Though Giant is the biggest supermarket chain in the Washington area and Northern Virginia, it has never been a major factor in the Southern Virginia grocery business.

Safeway had 22 stores in Richmond at the beginning of the year and recently has been negotiating to buy several units being abandoned by other grocers. Another major factor in the market is U-Tote-M, a big independent with 20 stores in the Richmond area.

With several times as many stores as Giant, the competitors were able to spend more money on advertising. Giant became a victim of the same kind of market dominance that has led chains such as Acme to pull out of the Washington market because they were unable to compete with Giant and Safeway.

Portnoy said the Giant stores in Richmond were making money, but David Sykes, Gaint's vice president for finance, said that their closing "will not have a significant impact" on Giant's sales or profits.

Sykes said, however, that Giant expects to report "a substantial extraordinary gain" from the sale of the store properties, including the fixtures and the leases on the buildings.

Safeway and Giant officials said the two chains hope to complete an agreement for the sale of the stores next week.

There are about 170 workers in the three Richmond Giant stores. Portnoy said Giant officials "are working with them to help find them jobs in the industry. If any of them are willing to relocate, we'll try to help them out with jobs in the company."