Downtown Anacostia's Safeway has received a second reprieve -- April 1 has been set as the day the doors will close -- but finding another grocery for the site is tying the community in knots.
Safeway, the nation's largest grocery chain, canceled the Dec. 31 shutdown date -- the store had originally been slated to close Aug. 11 -- after city administrator Elijah Rogers made the request on behalf of Mayor Marion Barry.
Rogers said the city and community needed additional time to arrange financing so that a community-selected, independent grocer could afford to operate the supermarket.
The Anacostia community quickly organized to save the store last summer when the closing was announced, but the rescue effort bogged down just as quickly after bickering broke out among the community, the city's Office of Business and Economic Development and the Anacostia Economic Development Corporation.
Members of a 21-member community task force, created to coordinate neighborhood control of the store, say they have received little guidance and assistance from either the city's business office or AEDC.
Community representatives say they do not know whether the three-month grace period will help them untangle their maze of difficulties. But since the store is the only major grocery within walking distance for approximately 10,000 low-income blacks, locating a replacement is crucial.
It is one of only four supermarkets south of Good Hope Road to serve nearly 155,000 people. Safeway announced in July that it would close the 18,000-square-foot store, at 14th Street and Good Hope Road SE, Aug. 11 because of pilferage, a deteriorating building and low profit margins.
Residents near the store, D.C. City Council members and merchants with shops on Good Hope Road immediately protested. The business people say the market's closing will have a deleterious affect on their trade by cutting down on the number of people coming into the neighborhood to shop.
For the past five months, the task force and the city government have been trying to work out an arrangement whereby a community-based corporation would lease the store and George Shelton, an independent grocer selected by the community, would be hired to run it.
Shelton, who owns one store on Capitol Hill and last week opened a second, would only manage the Anacostia store because, he said, he has no money to sublease it or buy the needed stock and equipment.
The task force asked the city and AEDC for money, but has been disappointed in the result. "The task force was inexperienced and when somebody says we're going to help you . . . you would expect them to come back with certain options, but the city didn't come back with that," said Cesar Marshall, the task force co-chairman. d
The city denies the charge. "We have given them everything," protested Hugh Mason, assistant director of the city's business office. "All of my other responsibilities have been dropped so I could deal with only that. We've done all of the things we have promised to do."
Mason said he has given citizens all the help he could. But he added that most of the assistance has gone to Shelton, the businessman selected by the community to run the new store.
Mason also said task force members did not understand that it takes time to arrange such a business venture.
Members of the task force have also criticized AEDC. "Their mission is to improve the economic vitality of this community," task force member Russell Smith said.
"This project will affect the economic life of the Good Hope Road corridor, and they have provided no leadership at all," he said.
But Al Hopkins, AEDC's president, said the corporation has given technical and moral support, and was asked for nothing else until October.
"AEDC didn't jump at (the Safeway) as one of its projects because a supermarket is not a priority for a community development corporation," he said. "It's a very, very risky operation."
Hopkins said AEDC also did not become more involved because it has been placed on probation by the federal Community Services Administration for nonperformance of certain tasks. The corporation therefore has no access to investment money. Last week, however, CSA agreed to study whether an independent grocer could operate the supermarket at a profit.
To compound the problem, the task force has had its own internal difficulties. "Every player has expected someone else to pick up the ball and run with it," said one participant describing the imbroglio. "As a result, nothing has gotten done."
The trouble began when the task force decided it should have sole responsibility for selecting who would take over the store.
An independent grocer with financing could have been found, said one participant, but "a lot of businessmen do not want to go through the problem of dealing with a community group for what is purely a business deal."
Then the task force split over whether to select Shelton or a non-profit group. The original president and treasurer, both Anacostia businessmen who live in Maryland, resigned in the midst of charges from other task force members that they should not head the group because they do not live in the community.
And through it all the prospects of finding another grocery grew dimmer. With three months to go before the Safeway finally closes, the rescue effort has become bogged down in frustration.
Still, Shelton stands at the ready to take over the store when the smoke clears.
"It's been a study in procrastination," Shelton concluded last week as he headed off for yet another community meeting on the store.