An expanded Safeway supermarket opened yesterday in the newly constructed La Plata Town Center shopping center along Crain Highway while the former Safeway at the town's main crossroads closed its doors after 33 years.
The new 58,000-square-foot grocery store at Shining Willow Way has 45 percent more floor space than the old Safeway, and includes a Starbucks coffee bar, a SunTrust bank branch, a pharmacy and expanded deli, produce, meat and bakery sections as well as more organic and natural food selections.
"The customers deserve it. They are going to be overwhelmed and thrilled when they see the new store," said store manager Jim Ross, who has managed the old Safeway at Routes 301 and 6 for eight years. The store will employ between 150 and 175 people in full- or part-time positions, up from the 105 who worked at the old Safeway, Ross said, and all the employees at the old store have moved to the new location.
Store officials said that the old Safeway had an outdated design and not enough space to accommodate features such as the pharmacy and the gas station outside. The new store features mahogany display cases and incandescent lighting that store officials hope will create a warmer, more pleasant shopping environment.
"Everything is set up for convenience and quality," said Gregory TenEyck, a Safeway spokesman, as he toured the store this week.
With the closing of the old Safeway on Tuesday night, and the recent departure of the CVS pharmacy to a new location, the La Plata Shopping Center has lost its two anchor tenants and shows little sign of recovery. Other smaller stores, such as Judy's Hallmark, Video Unlimited and Annie's Cleaners left the center after it suffered major tornado damage two years ago.
The owner of the La Plata Shopping Center, Henry Bowis of Kenwood Management LLC, said that no new tenants have committed to fill the vacant space and that it probably would be at least six months before the vacancies could be ready for new tenants. Safeway's lease on its old store extends for about seven more years, Bowis said, so the company would be responsible for subletting the location if desired. Bowis said there has been some discussion with the restaurant chain, Outback Steakhouse, to fill part of the CVS space.
"We don't like having a dark store there, but there's nothing we can do about it," Bowis said. "I'm sure [Safeway's] anxious about finding someone to sublet to."
Feng Chen, the manager of the Chinese restaurant Eastern Carryout, one of four businesses operating in the shopping center, said the absence of the bigger stores causes a "small problem" for him.
"The first few months, I think business might be a little slower," he said. "But we still have a lot of working people that come in for lunch. That won't change."
Several shoppers making their last trips to the old Safeway on Tuesday said they were happy with the change as long as the new store lives up to its billing.
"I'm kind of excited. I hear great things about it," said Leonard Murphy, 35, a steam fitter from Newburg. "I've lived here all my life, and I've seen a lot of things change."
In addition to the new Safeway store, the La Plata Town Center will include a Blockbuster video store, a Mattress Mart, a UPS Store and a Chevy Chase bank branch.