Ruth L. Tighe sent me a note that said, "I have a question about the Town House Food Store at 2060 L St. NW.
"It takes my checks made out to Safeway, and sells Safeway products. Yet it wouldn't redeem a Safeway coupon. Is Town House a Safeway or is it not?"
Previously, readers had merely grumbled about Town House prices being higher than Safeway's. This was the first time anybody had asked for a yes-or-no answer about the corporate relationship.
I put Ruth's question to Ernest G. Moore, a Safeway spokesman, and got this answer.
"Safeway operates four Town House stores in the District of Columbia. Generally speaking, the Town House stores are considered to be convenience stores. They also provide a limited retail food service where no other is available.
"While these stores offer both national and Safeway brands, they do not carry a full line of merchandise, as do regular Safeways, due to restrictions imposed by store size.
"The average sales of the small Town House stores are substantially less than those of Safeway supermarkets. Due to higher operating costs associated with low sales, the price structure of Town House stores is higher than that of high volume Safeway supermarkets. Due to the entirely different nature of their operation, Town House stores are not included in Safeway ads. Town House stores have not been particularly successful. Four have already been closed and a fifth will close this fall when its lease expires."
In other words: Yes, we own it, but we have to run it differently because high downtown rents result in small stores and low sales volume. Prices are higher, yet profits are lower.
Giant's Joseph B. Danzansky made the same point in a recent letter to the editor. Where real estate values are higher, occupancy expense is higher and prices must be higher. If you're in favor of paying supermarket clerks a better wage, you must expect to pay higher prices for groceries. If you support higher wages for cooks and waiters, you must be prepared to pay more for a restaurant meal. When you support a pay raise for government workers, you know that taxes will go up, not down.
Even as Postal Service officials braced for a possible strike on Monday, several of them were smiling ruefully at Bob Orben's line: "Most people have selective memories. They remember when you could send a letter for 3 cents. What they forget is the $700 truck it traveled in - on gas that cost 9 cents a gallon."
Whether you're running a convenience store, a newspaper or a postal service, you can't escape the relationship between costs and prices.