Two local businessmen recently opened a food store in Anacostia that they hope will profit from the lack of adequate grocery service in the area. What's unusual about their venture is that it is being touted as virtually secure against shoplifting.
J. J.'s Urban Foodcenter on Good Hope Road SE is designed along the lines of an old-fashioned general store or a catalog showroom, where customers stand before a counter and point out to a clerk the merchandise they wish to buy. Payment must be up front before the goods change hands.
J. J.'s is a pilot store for what owners John M. McCoy III and William T. Syphax hope will blossom into a chain of 16 inner-city grocery stores. It will be competing with neighborhood fast food outlets and convenience stores such as 7-Eleven, the owners say. Prices fall between those of the larger food chains and convenience stores.
McCoy got his start in business in Thailand, where he leased and operated hotels, nightclubs and an electrical manufacturing firm for 10 years. Because of the growing political unrest in that country, he returned to the United States in 1975 to look for recession-proof, high-cash-flow business ventures. One thing McCoy discovered was a lack of food stores in the inner cities.
From 1975 until earlier this year, McCoy experimented with four J. J.'s Country Markets in the District and Prince George's County and two in South Carolina. These establishments have since gone out of business.
In 1980, McCoy contacted Syphax, a real estate developer here since the 1950s, and talked about a possible partnership. Later that same year, they established Phoenix Food Systems Inc., with McCoy as president and Syphax as chairman of the board.
The J. J.'s store in Anacostia is separated into two sections: fast-food and grocery items. There are two cash registers in each section and additional help from the stock room staff is supplied during peak hours to fill orders.
J. J.'s also has a computerized inventory system which will be checked periodically during the day to guard against possible employe crime, the owners said.
McCoy hopes that robberies will not be a problem since the store will be open 20 hours a day and employes will be working there during the remaining four hours.
McCoy and Syphax say that because they would like to set an example in the area, the store's manager and 14 employes have been hired from the immediate neighborhood.
"There's no such thing as civil rights without corresponding economic rights," says Syphax. McCoy said he feels the key is to relate to the community and create employment there.
The 4000-square-foot store will be open seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. and will offer 5,001 grocery items, fresh produce, meats and seafood (including 11 kinds of fresh fish seven days a week), as well as a line of "ethnic" fast-food.
The establishment offers no parking space because the owners estimate that about 75 percent to 80 percent of its potential customers live in the high-density area and can walk to the store.