When more than a dozen elderly residents of the Capitol View Plaza senior citizens home in Southeast Washington went shopping for groceries Tuesday, they did what many Washington residents do: They shopped in Maryland.
But in their case, the bus transportation they used to travel from their home at 5901 East Capitol St. SE near the District border to Hampton and Landover malls in Prince George's County was supplied by the D.C. Department of Recreation.
Department officials said yesterday that as many as 35 percent of the hundreds of bus trips taken by senior citizens under its shopping and excursion programs are made outside the city.
The use of city buses to take elderly residents into the suburbs for routine shopping underscores the sharp drop in the number of grocery stores in Washington and the limited success so far of efforts by Mayor Marion Barry's administration to reverse that trend and provide safe and modern shopping areas for all city residents.
"The need for more such business services is certainly something we're aware of," said Lawrence Schumake, director of the Office of Business and Economic Development. "I presume they the Recreation Department take them where they want to go. It would be nice if there were more places in the District that they want to go."
Supermarkets, which have declined in Washington from 91 in 1968 to 37 currently, are viewed as economic anchors that attract other retail businesses to communities. Schumake said studies done for his office indicate that the city could use about 15 more modern supermarkets and four shopping malls similar to the year-old Hechinger Mall in Northeast Washington.
"There's not that much in the District they have to offer," said Evan Turner, director of the senior citizen center at Edgewood Terrace in Northeast Washington. "They have more security in the suburbs; its a little bit more relaxing. Anytime you go into a store and there's a policeman it's more comfortable."
Turner said the city has too few stores that offer the space for buses to park, easy access for infirmed or handicapped persons, wide selections of goods and security--advantages he said readily exist in the suburbs.
Turner said about 135 of Edgewood's 292 residents use the recreation department's bus service for routine shopping.
"We hope they will shop in the District," said Richard Terrell, the recreation department's director of the cultural activities division, which oversees the bus service. The service, which provides about 50,000 rides a year, is used for shopping and for recreational outings like picnics, trips to the Kennedy center or visits to Wolf Trap.
"We don't fuss too much" about out-of-city trips, Terrell said. "They are on such fixed incomes, it's a pretty difficult decision not to let them go. Our idea is not to let them sit there, but to get into the mainstream of life."