Along Central Avenue in far northeast Washington the patrons and friends of the Central View Market see their neighborhood grocery store as one of the last small survivors in the age of supermarket chains.
Parents in that inner-city neighborhood have no fears about sending their children to the market with a shopping list.
A D.C. police officer who has worked the beat around the store for 11 years said he doubted another market could match Capitol View for "topbrand fresh meat, such as rabbit, chitterlings, ground beef and several varieties of fish."
And D.C. City Council member Willie J. Hardy (D-Ward 7), who represents that neighborhood, once wrote that probably no other market in the city would deliver food to the sick and the elderly.
For the market's poor neighbors, who live in public housing in the area, and for the elderly there on fixed incomes, the market's "affordable prices" and license to accept food stamps is most important. By order of the Department of Agriculture, however, the food stamp program at the market, at 4920 Central Ave. NE, will be halted on Saturday for six months -- a decision that Hardy said will cause "unimaginable hardships" for that community.
The market's problems began last April. Agriculture officials charged the store with accepting food stamps on five occasions as payment for nonfood items, such as beer, wine, pink Champale and household cleaning items, according to Joseph E. Shepherd, director of the administrative review staff of the department's food and nutrition service in Washington.
Shepherd said in an interview yesterday that the service's regional office decided to investigate the store when officials noticed that the market was redeeming more food stamps than its competitors in the area. Records show that $21,000 worth of food stamps were redeemed there in May 1978 and $10,000 in May 1979, Shepherd said.
The nutrition service made "educational visits" to the market to inform the owners about the rules of the food stamp program, Shepherd said. When the high redemption rate continued, he said, "aides" were sent to the market to pose as customers to test "the compliance atmosphere in the store." As a result, he said the charges were filed.
Yesterday, the owners of the market went to the U.S. District Court to try to stop enforcement of the Agriculture Department order. Letters from Hardy, police officers and neighborhood advisory commissioners, along with a petition signed by more than 250 area residents, were filed with the court in support of the owner's effort. A hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. tomorrow before Judge Harold H. Greene.
The store's principal owner, Irving Baron, who bought the market 32 years ago with his father, said yesterday he did not remember if he had sold nonfood items for food stamps.
"Sometimes if you make a mistake, mistakes do wake you up," Baron said later. In a sworn statement filed with the court yesterday, Baron said the food stamp program provides about one-third of the total business at the Capitol View Market, which is still known to many in the neighborhood as a "D.G.S." for District Grocery Store, a chain of small independent food stores to which it once belonged.
In court papers yesterday, the market's owners said they had asked the Agriculture Department to impose a money fine instead of cutting off the food stamp program because "of the extreme hardship which would be placed on the community."
Shepherd said yesterday, however, that the request was rejected after investigators determined there were 30 other grocery stores in the vicinity within walking distance, or reachable by a bus or taxi ride.
The owners, however, protested in court papers yesterday that "there is no store in the area which provides food stamp recipients with the same services" as the Capitol View Market.
In a letter filed with the court yesterday, advisory neighborhood commissioner Daisy S. Dulany said that "most of the people in the neighborhood do not have cars for transportation and cannot afford taxicabs to carry groceries home.
"The owners of the store have been delivering groceries to many handicapped persons and senior citizens. During the heavy snowstorm this past winter the store was open daily to service the community," Dulany wrote.
Another commissioner, James F. Onley Sr., made it clear in a recent letter to the Agriculture Department that no one was condoning any violations of any kind at the market. But, Onley said, "when you walk and talk with poor elderly people daily and learn of their impoverished conditions we have to try for their sake to maintain a needed service."
The market, Onley said, "provides its customers with convenience, quality, service and honesty second to none, of which we are quite proud . . ."
If the food stamp program is cut off for six months, owners of the market would suffer a "drastic drop in their business, forcing them to lay off long time employes and neighborhood youngsters who work at the market after school and on weekends," Onley said. "This goes a long way toward reducing juvenile crime," he said in a letter to the department.
The neighborhood appreciates the "continuing dedication service and support to the community," Onley said. And to make that clear, he said, at ceremonies just a few weeks ago at the 6th District police headquarters, the Neighborhood Advisory Commission awarded a plaque to the Capitol View Market.