Giant Food Inc. and a small, 1960s-style food co-op have locked horns in Bethesda over turf.
They're fighting over a 73-space parking lot on property recently leased by the supermarket chain at 7115 Arlington Rd. The lot adjoins the Bethesda Avenue Food Co-op.
The lot, which has been used as a parking lot by the co-op's customers, is in back of a new specialty store Giant is opening today across the road from one of its supermarkets. The new Giant, housed in an old A&P supermarket building, will have a pharmacy, a flower shop, and a large "health-foods" section.
David Rutstein, a lawyer for the 132-store supermarket chain, said Giant needs the parking lot for employe parking.
"The businesses that had been using the parking space before we took over the lease don't own the land," Rutstein said. "But they seem to believe they have some kind of right to it."
Members and supporters of the seven-year-old co-op believe they view the parking lot -- and the world -- from a different perspective.
The co-op regularly gives a 10 percent discount on all purchases to shoppers older than 62 and to those living on food stamps, said Michael Sobsey, a former volunteer who now works full time at the store.
Any profits not plowed back into equipment are given away in the form of food donations to community groups, he said.
In addition to a stock of organic, locally grown produce, the co-op sells grains and beauty aids and imported cheeses, operates a bookstore and a cafe, and regularly schedules conferences and concerts.
"Think of the elderly having to carry their shopping bags out of here," Sobsey said. "A lot of our sales are 100-pound sacks of grains and flour. The lot is sort of important to our survival."
Giant, while making no pretense of running anything but a business, has an extensive community program of its own, which includes partial sponsorship of Little League baseball teams and scouting groups and discounts on food distributed to the needy by community nonprofit organizations.
"Parking is the lifeblood of any business," commented Rutstein, in explaining why Giant saved the lot bordering its supermarket for customers and reserved the disputed parking lot -- "the least convenient for Giant customers" -- for employe parking and put a fence around it.
As the fence was going up, several dozen co-op members, sympathizers and shoppers picketed the Giant Food store nearby.
"In an effort to be a good neighbor," Rutstein said, Giant offered to make its customer parking behind the supermarket available to co-op customers, but Peter Jones, a member of the co-op's board of directors, said the small store did not consider this a satisfactory solution because the parking lot proposed by Giant is almost half a block away.