On a warm, sun-fed day in December, Ed Henry guared the parking lot of Shaw's new Giant Food store; a gold-badged, pistol-packing security man, jiving with friends, helping old ladies and talking up his new employer.
"Man, this store's the best thing happened to Shaw in a long time," Henry said. "This store is about this neighborhood."
The talk of Shaw these days is Giant's new 34,500-square-foot, $1.5 million food store at 8th and O streets NW. Stark amid rotting townhouses and street corner winos, the manmoth brick complex looks like it lost its way on the road to suburbia.
Henry, one of 60 Shaw residents who work at the store, echoes the pride that has run through this innercity neighborhood since the supermarket opened there two months ago.
Since then, the store has become a symbol. The neighbors know now that change is on the way.
In 1968, Shaw burned with the rage that brought District blacks into the streets. When the smoke had cleared and the broken glass had been swept away, Shaw found that its blood had been drained. Government and business fled, leaving the area to decay.
Leading the exodus were major food chains, complaining of profit losses, aging facilities, lack of space and urban crime. In 1968 there were 91 chain stores in the District. Today there are 40.
Make that 41. Giant's new market has arrived, the first chain store built in the city in 10 years.
The store has more than 10,000 food products, a pharmacy, a bakery and 10 check-out lanes. It is big, bright and clean, painted in greens and blues, oranges and lavenders, with wagon wheel chandeliers and a huge roman-faced Clock. Outside, there is parking for more than 200 cars.
It is open 24 hours a day and is, Giant officials say, "one of our better stores so far, profit-wise."
Unlike othe renovation projects undertaken in the city over the past several years, Giant hasn't come in spite of the residents, but with them.
The company has exclusive rights to manage the store, but owns only a thrid of its business. The D.C. Development Corporation, a nonprofit group that provides housing and services on behalf of the city's poor, owns 56 percent of the facility. The Shaw Project Area Committee, a neighborhood services commission, owns the remainder of the property. The partners lease the building from black developer James Adkins.
Most Shaw residents interviewed say they know nothing of this unique partnership. What they do know is that they love his store, and that it is fast becoming a kind of neighborhood institution. They take pride in it, and meet friends there. It is home.
Navie Rowley, the store's general manager, arrives each day between 7:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. in his gold Lincoln Continental. A Giant employee for 14 years, he wears a blue polyster suit and runs this store with spit and polish, believing, like Gen. Douglas MacArthur, that "leaders are born, not made."
Beginning a counterclockwise inspection tour after checking the mail, he passes first through house plants, on to produce, to deli, seafood, meats, frozen foods and then back down a random aisle to the shipping dock out back.
He is promptly met in each section by its manager, who accompaines Rowley as he barks out orders. "This lettuce is old. Toss it," he commands. "Where's your nameplate? The seal is broken on this bologna. Level down your soup cans. . . ."
The customers call him "Mister," asking advice on the location of currants, powdered milk and Ritz crackers.
To his employes he is strict, a rule giver and maker. "Navie's a company man. He's by the book," says Bob Mayes, the bear-sized receiver in the Pittsburgh Steelers hat who checks three to six truckloads of food into the store each day from his post at the loading dock.
Rowley sees himself that way too: A 49-year-old workaholic who puts in at least 80 hours a week at the store for his $35,000-a-year salary.
"My ex-wife used to tell me I should take a job with regular hours, maybe pump gas at a service station or something, but I want to do something I believe in . . . . If the meat saw or fish scaler break down, if light bulbs need reordering, I have to know about it. I have to keep track of the employes, their hours, their complaints, their work. It's a lot, but it's good."
As important as the logistics of his job is the need for personal rapport -- with both customers and employes.
"It's easy for black people to be offended if you have to reprimand them," Rowley said. "It's easy for them to call you Uncle Tom, to say you are a sellout to a big, white company . . .
"I have to deal with a reverend one way, a school teacher another. The young guy in the street wants me to be able to slap hands and jive with him. And I do.
"I'm here to make this store work. It's important to Giant, important to the community."
Minnie Hodges, Delores Wilson and Debra Beavers, all welfare mothers and Shaw residents, stood before the paper towels on a recent afternoon, comparing prices and discussing their new store.
The three live within several blocks of the Giant and have formed a new kind of club since the store opened. Rather than getting together for coffee, they pick each other up and go food shopping.
"It's better than the corner," said Hodges, 34, who used to walk 10 blocks to another chain store to do her shopping. "We see all our friends, talk about who's doin' what. I have a great time shopping.
"The old store I went to wasn't as nice and the food wasn't as fresh. The smaller markets just rip you off."
The coming of Giant Food, however, brings a touch of apprehension to Shaw.
"It could be that Giant comes in here because they see that the renovation has started here," says Juanita Thompson. "They see white folks moving into the area and they say 'hey, this gonna be something good . . .'
"But if that's true, I wouldn't blame them. Everybody wants to make a little change, you know."
Beside neighbors, Giant attracts shoppers who work downtown and live in the suburbs.
"It's convenient," said Woodward and Lothrop employe Juanita Jones, a Lanham resident. "It's like a breath of fresh air in the city. A lot of my friends from all over -- Hyattsville, Bethesda, Virginia -- stop here on their way home from work."
But while everyone agrees that regional patronage has boosted the store's profits significantly, it still belongs to the neighborhood.
A sign of this is jitney drivers like James Witney. A Shaw resident for 15 years, he offers the services of his white Buick "Deuce and a Quarter" to those who need a ride home with their groceries. In return, he says, "riders can tip me if they want, but I don't charge them because I don't have a hacker's license."
"Taxis charge these people 15 to 20 cents a bag for their groceries, more if they want the driver to help them carry their bags to their apartments . . . One guy I drive regularly is blind. He says he once was taken to the wrong address by a taxi. He had a hell of a time gettin' home. We don't let that happen."
Sam Fields, a sleepy-eyed bulldog of a man who handles outside security for Giant and has lived in the area for 30 years, helps customers get rides with the "10 or 12, maybe more" jitney drivers. He screens all drivers, and "won't let guys I don't know take people home. I don't want my people taken advantage of," he says.
Night in Shaw: quiet and cold, 2 a.m. The Giant beams in the night.
Inside the store, under bright fluorescent lights with Muzak, clerks unload cardboard boxes full of soap poweder, cookie mixes and orange juice. The aisles are busy with late-night shoppers -- men in suits, hookers in stretch plants and off-duty nurses stock up for the week. It would be day, but the traffic is in silent slow motion.
Two men, their breath heavy with wine, sway by the pharmacy counter, counting up change for a pack of Kools. Another inspects vitamins. "They got just what you need for the womens, Slim," he laughs. "They say this vitamin E some powerful stuff."
A pair of gray-haired women in threadbare coats move through the deli section, a Laurel and Hardy combination, one as round and fat as the other is thin and drawn. As they reach poultry, the fat woman, who is pushing the cart, chooses a package of chicken parts and puts it on the child's seat of the cart.
They turn the corner into the next aisle, and the fat woman scoops the chicken under her coat.
Several minutes later a stranger approaches.
"Seen any shoplifting here lately? They say there's been a lot of it."
"I ain't seen none," says the thin woman.
"I ain't neither," shrugs the fat woman.
Doris Fox has. On the morning of Dec. 2, the 26-year-old welfare mother with 50-year-old eyes was arrested by police and charged with stealing a $13 canned ham and a box of stuffing from the store.
Fox lives across the street from the Giant with her husband Red, who is disabled with epilepsy, and their two children, ages 4 and 6 months. The family lives on $348 a month in welfare payments, $120 in food stamps. A rat lives near the door of their three-story brick apartment house. Fox is home now, awaiting her trial.
John Minter nabbed her. The 30-year-old uniformed guard has worked 15 stores in his two years as a Giant security guard, specializing in "Loss Prevention."
He won't say how many other guards patrol Shaw's Giant, but they are there, strolling among cornflakes and frozen spinach with walkie-talkies hidden in their coats. Between them, Minter says, they catch about 20 shoplifters a week. Some of the shoplifters have handguns, knives or icepicks.
Minter says problems with pilferage are no greater in Shaw than at other Giant stores. "There will always be people who steal. That's why we're here," he says.
Joe Mondichak, 26, is the grocery manager for Shaw's Giant. A Vietnam veteran, Mondichak is studying nights for a masters degree in biochemistry at George Washington University. He orders the goods that stock three-quarters of the store's shelves.
On a recent afternoon, Mondichak was checking out customers on Aisle 10, punching orders into one of the computer check-out termainals to feed into Giant's Lanham warehouse.
Mondichak says the store is doing a "tremendous volume." His workers put in 500 hours a week at a cost of about $5,000 to process and put up 9,000 cases of soup, napkins, frozen beans and everything else. His wholesale order come to $130,000 a week, he says.
Giant officials say that when the Shaw store opened, its merchandise was "the same as that in any other store." But now that the store has been open for two months, shopping patterns being plotted and inventories adjusted.
Mondichak says that the store no longer carries artichoke hearts, caviar, Greek olives ("people down here don't drink many martinis I guess"), Le Petit Beurre (tea biscuits), or cappucino.
The store sells large amounts of Giant brand "no-frills" items, he says, and cases and cases of apple juice, pork and beans, sugar, corn muffin mix, peanut butter, jelly, pancake mix, and barbeque sauce.
Also, he says, "the kids come in each morning to buy their lunches. We sell them a lot of lunch meat, sausages and "doughnuts."
Thomas Floyd, the store's produce manager, says his biggest items are lettuce ("we carry 10 kinds, you know, but most seem to prefer iceberg, even though it's more expensive"); kale; collards; turnip and mustard greens, onions and potatoes. He goes through about 2,150 cases of produce a week, at a cost of $32,000 to 43,000.
The other large-volume section is the meat department, run by Thomas Fuqua. Fuqua says his best sellers are chicken (21,977 pounds per week); fresh pork; lamb; turkey; chitterlings (15,900 pounds); and items like spare ribs; pigs feet, tails and ears; hog maws, and neck bones (8,650 pounds).
In all, he says, he orders about 30,620 pounds of meat each week, at an average of about $1.29 apound. Total: $39,500 a week.
Though Giant officials won't say how much profit all that translates into, one spokesman said their 97 stores in the Metro area average 14 cents on each $10 sale. Sales in each of the stores average about $9 million a year, he said.
Most employes agree with 21-year-old Shaw resident Michey Lewis, who says that "there ain't time for socializing here," but Giant employes say they like working in the new store -- especially Shaws hometowners.
"It's nice to be able to go out your door and a block down the street and be at work," says Lewis as she puts out some fresh cookies.
"A lot of my friends work here, so I get to see them. . . . When the store announced its opening in the summer, they send out leaflets and held meetings at the Watha Daniels Library. We went, and most of us got jobs. . . ."
"The good thing about this place is that you can get promoted," she says. "I started as a utility clerk in October, pushing carts and running errands for $3.15 an hour. Now I'm working here in the bakery and making $4.75. . . . It helps out a lot."
Outsiders, like grocery manager Mondichak, who came from the Lanham store, say they are comfortable there, too. But Mondichak says he was apprehensive when he was assigned to the inner-city store. "I was worried about being one of the only whites," he recalls.
"I had heard this was a rough neighborhood. . . . I didn't know how the relationships would work out since I was going to be in charge of an all-black crew."
But now, he says, "things are cake. It's just a store, the people are just people. Everything's working out fine." CAPTION: Picture 1, A couple leaves the imposing Giant Food store at Eighth and O streets NW in the Shaw neighborhood.; Picture 2, Store manager Navie Rowley poses in his spacious domain as shoppers file down the aisles., Photos by Fred Sweets -- The Washington Post; Picture 3, Grocery manager Joe Mondichak advises a shopper about merchandise.; Picture 4, The Rev. Walter Everette, of Christ's Mission Church, shops at Giant.; Picture 5, Thomas Floyd, the produce manager of the Giant store, sprays bins of greens. He says about 2,150 cases of produce go through the store each week at a cost of $32,000 to $43,000.; Picture 6, Raymond Rogers holds the shopping basket as Rubin Liggins fills it up.; Picture 7, John Minter roams the store specializing in "loss prevention." He catches 20 shoplifters a week. Photos by Fred Sweets -- The Washington Post