Plentiful in more affluent parts of the city and its suburbs, Starbucks outlets are nonexistent in the nation's capital east of Capitol Hill. Such stores are among many amenities -- from restaurants with wait staff to card shops to office supply stores -- that residents complain are scarce or not available on the east side of the bridges that span the Anacostia's brownish waters.
Now, Starbucks is coming.
A Safeway supermarket on Alabama Avenue SE will open a Starbucks coffee bar this summer, bringing the world of $3 lattes and cappuccinos to a neighborhood now dominated by cheap fast food and carryout.
"We have so few retail options," said Kathy Chamberlain, an advisory neighborhood commissioner and longtime resident of Hillcrest, just south of Pennsylvania Avenue near the District-Prince George's County line. "We're wondering what is it about our neighborhood, that everywhere else people are whining that they have too many Starbucks, why can't we get even one?"
Officials at Safeway, which launched a partnership with Starbucks four years ago to place coffee bars in some of its stores, said the request for an outpost on Alabama Avenue came from customers. Safeway officials, pointing out that good wines, fresh coffee beans and higher-priced seafood and produce have been selling well at the store, said they expected the coffee bar to be profitable.
"There really is no place anywhere east of the river to get a gourmet cup of coffee," manager Steven Gray said. "It didn't take long for a light bulb to go off and say, 'Hey, we might be on to something here.' "
Safeway has Starbucks outposts at several dozen of its suburban stores, said Greg TenEyck, a spokesman for the grocery chain's mid-Atlantic region. In part because the coffee bars fit only in the company's larger stores, the only D.C. locations to host a Starbucks so far are in Georgetown and at Georgia Avenue and Piney Branch Road NW, TenEyck said.
Under the terms of the partnership, Safeway builds the coffee bars and its employees are trained as baristas. The coffee drinks are prepared with Starbucks ingredients and recipes, and the baked goods are brought in from the coffee company.
The kiosk at the Alabama Avenue store is supposed to open in August, Gray said. Outside the busy supermarket yesterday, many shoppers applauded the idea.
"We don't have anything like that around here. We deserve it," said Eudelle Bolden, a retired federal employee who has lived in nearby Fairlawn for 36 years and was shopping with her husband, James. "We never had anyplace to go and relax, be together."
Ronald Tyler, 64, said he's not one for frothy coffee drinks. But he still thought the Starbucks would do well. "It's going to catch on," he said. "They need something else besides all the fast food."
When the Safeway was built seven years ago as part of the Good Hope Marketplace, developers tried to lure a sit-down restaurant, without success.
The mostly African American neighborhoods surrounding the shopping center had lost many residents to the drug and crime epidemics that plagued parts of the city for years. The poverty and blight in those sections came to define far Southeast Washington, even as more stable, middle- and upper-income enclaves such as Hillcrest, Fairlawn and Penn Branch thrived.
Now, thousands of townhouses and detached homes have been built recently or are under construction in Washington east of the Anacostia River. Young families are moving into many neighborhoods. The prices of some new townhouses are climbing toward $200,000. Some single-family homes are selling for $300,000 or more.
The city plans to revitalize neighborhoods on both sides of the river over the next 20 years and is trying to buy several old shopping strips across the street from the Good Hope Marketplace to make way for a new retail complex.
Several longtime community activists said they would prefer to see Starbucks -- which has more than 20 locations downtown, and 160 across the Washington area -- open a standalone store at the Good Hope Marketplace, or at the Penn Branch shopping strip about a mile away on Pennsylvania Avenue SE.
"Having it in the Safeway, that's a start," said Vincent Spaulding, 63, an advisory neighborhood commissioner who in the past has driven across the Sousa Bridge to the Starbucks at Eastern Market to meet with other civic activists. "Hopefully, it will be successful enough that when other things happen and other spaces become available, they'll be able to do something else."