Much of the Petworth community was upset with Safeway in November. Residents complained about the quality of meats, produce and service, which for more than 71 years the grocery store chain had prided itself over.
Customers wanted change.
It took six months before the community was able to see the results. On May 28, after being closed for an 11-day face lift, the Safeway on Georgia Avenue and Randolph Street NW reopened with new floors and shelving and a new ceiling.
"It's very impressive," said Willy Flowers, the Advisory Neighborhood Commission chairperson for 4C. "They responded to the request we had, and I'm very pleased."
Flowers wasn't the only one pleased. Many customers marveled at the store's decoration and service.
"This store has definitely improved," said Carlos Pineda, 55, who has lived in Petworth since the mid-1970s.
"The quality of the store is 1,000 percent better than it was," said Charles Duline, 56. "It's brighter and everything looks fresher. I like the improvements."
Prior to the renovations, shoppers such as Lisa Parker would patronize the Safeway on Georgia Avenue between Piney Branch Road and Van Buren Street NW, two miles north of the Randolph Street store. They would even go as far as Silver Spring or Virginia to shop at other grocery stores, where they found a greater selection.
"The Safeway up the street [the Piney Branch store] has a lot more," said Parker, a mother of two. "But I like the way this store has improved. It's a lot more organized, and there is a better selection than before."
Flowers said he, like other area residents, were tired of the poor quality of the store.
"I had several terrible experiences with Safeway," Flowers said. "Everything from the employees, to the food. The meat was bad, the produce was bad, and there were rat sightings. Not just by me but by other people, too.
"At first, we were not as successful in getting Safeway to respond," he added, "but now I feel that our ANC meetings got something positive out of it. I feel committed enough to shop there."
Flowers said his commitment to the store is tied to the community's confidence that Safeway will do its part to continue to make improvements to the store.
"We have built new or expanded 11 stores in the district since 1980," said Greg TenEyck, director of public affairs for the grocery chain. "A lot of people have looked [skeptically] at stores opening in the inner city, but we've been doing this 70 years. It's what we do. It's not a trend."
Safeway officials said they have been pleased with the neighborhood's response. On the morning of the ribbon-cutting ceremony reopening the store, a crowd of customers waited for store manager Rob Nicol and other officials to allow them in to see the changes.
"It was scheduled to reopen at 9, but we saw some people out and opened at 8," said TenEyck, who was on hand with Safeway district manager Paul Groshko, vice president of operations Hank Cominiello, eastern division President Mike Bessire, D.C. Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4) and Flowers.
TenEyck said Jarvis and Flowers were instrumental in bringing the needs of the community to the attention of Safeway officials.
"There was a realization about the store . . . it needed some improvements. We were actually losing money, so we estimated that a $750,000 investment would be needed to improve the store," TenEyck said.
The investment paid off.
The new floors sparkle. The ceiling arcs into a bright, spacious display of wood, fans and florescent lights. There is fresh paint on the walls. The vegetables are greener. The meat is fresher. Groceries are better organized, and the thoughts of shoppers seem to have been taken into careful consideration.
"It feels very good to come in here now," said Marie Parks, of Petworth. "It's brighter and nicer. But I never really had a problem with the store."
Pineda added, "The cleanliness and the quality of the food and the display are all very, very good."
Still, there are those who continue to shop at the Piney Branch Safeway.
"The Piney Branch store has things that this one doesn't," Pam Jackson said. "There are things that you can get up there that you can't get down here."
Depending on her needs, Parks also travels up to the Piney Branch store.
"The bigger the need, I'll go to the bigger store," she said.
Those needs can include a deli, bakery and a variety of breads--such as French, Italian and garlic--all of which can be found at the larger Piney Branch store. That store has 50,000 square feet; the Randolph Street store only has 22,000.
But Safeway officials said they still are interested in hearing from the community. They also said the needs of the growing Latino population in the Petworth area are under consideration.
"We hope that customers will come to the manager and let him know the specialty items that they may need," TenEyck said.
"I like shopping here," said Pineda, a native of Panama. "If [the store] doesn't have what we need, we have to travel to the Safeway on Columbia Road" for specialty foods.
"I'm going to make certain that [the] marketing [department] knows about the Latino population in that area," TenEyck said.
"The one on Piney Branch is still much bigger than this store," said Sushlia Peterson, a dentist in the Petworth area. "I just use the one around here if I need small items. The other Safeway is just a little more safer."
Flowers said that he is concerned abut safety issues and that there have been some complaints about the number of men standing near the store's entrance, soliciting rides. But, he said, there haven't been any reports to the best of his knowledge of any attacks.
"I think with the opening of the new Metro [Petworth Station], it should resolve any safety questions. There will be a lot of traffic and will deter crime . . . at least in theory," Flowers said.
But overall, the store on Randolph Street has created a feeling in area residents that there are good things to come for the community.
"Actually, I had stopped shopping here because the produce was so bad," shopper Betty Martin said. "But everything looks better. It's easier to find things. It's a better atmosphere. I'll definitely come back. The way things look makes me want to shop here again."
CAPTION: Maphone Ishmon bags groceries at the store on Georgia Avenue and Randolph Street NW. About $750,000 was invested in the renovation.