Safeway officials announced yesterday that they were postponing the closing of the downtown Anacostia store until the end of the year to allow time to find an independent grocer to take over the supermarket.

Last week, Safeway officials said they would shut down their store at 14th Street and Good Hope Road SE on Aug. 11 because of problems of pilferage, a deteriorating building and low profit margins.

Announcement of the closing generated protests from residents near the store, D.C. City Council members, and merchants with shops on Good Hope Road.

There are an estimated 10,000 residents who live within walking distance of the Good Hope Road Safeway.

The closing would have left the area south of Good Hope Road with only three supermarkets to serve an estimated 115,000 people, most of whom are black and poor.

Safeway spokesman Tony Statom said yesterday the company had decided to delay closing the store to "allow sufficient time to someone to arrange financing. This is in the interest of the community to ensure them uninterrupted food service."

During the past week, according to Statom, Safeway officials said they talked with several independent grocers who expressed an interest in leasing the 20,000-square-foot store, but no buyer has been found.

Several community leaders and residents of the area had scheduled a rally for yesterday at the store to protest the closing. Although a Safeway official earlier told many of them the store would remain open until Dec. 31, the rally was held as planned.

About 100 people attended and several speakers talk of the community's desire for a clean supermarket with fresh produce.

They complained that the Safeway was dirty, sold poor quality meats, was poorly managed and had a leaky roof.

"They [Safeway] said business has been declining. We say service has been declining. We say service has been declining," Walter Howard, president of the Good Hope Road Merchants Association, told the crowd.

"People are shopping somewhere else because of the poor service they get here," Howard said.

"We don't like what these food stores are doing to us," council member Wilhelmina Rolark (D-Ward 8) said.

"We take the leftover merchandise," said Rolark, who has constituents who shop at the store.

Statom denied Rolark's and Howard's charges.

"We're saying to Safeway and everybody else we're just as good as anybody else and that our stomachs need the same quality food as everybody else," Father George A. Stallings Jr., an Anacostia Catholic priest, told the crowd.