The plate glass windows are streak-free, the aisles shine and the produce bins are filled to bursting. Upscale supermarket shopping has finally arrived in Columbia Heights.
After more than five years of wrangling among developers, residents and city officials, the long-anticipated Giant supermarket at the Tivoli Theatre complex on Park Road NW opened Wednesday with speeches, live jazz and platters of spicy chicken wings.
But as happy as they were with the store's fresh meat, flowers, corn flour and ready-to-eat Thai entrees, a few dozen neighborhood residents gathered outside to picket the festivities. Their beef: Key public space has been lost in the busy 1400 block because of a parcel pickup lane carved into the sidewalk without city approval.
"We're happy with the whole thing except for this," Marty Baldessari, who helped organize the protest, said as he pointed to the single lane for vehicles, separated from pedestrians by concrete pillars.
Some residents fear that a lane of vehicular traffic, which was cut into a wide promenade outside the store, will endanger pedestrians, especially children.
"This is a great day for this great neighborhood," council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) exclaimed during the opening ceremony as he stood in front of the aisles for peanut butter and domestic wines.
But "Giant, you may have to make a few more compromises," Graham said as he pointed to protesters outside, who were shouting, "Give us back our sidewalk." They waved signs that read "Giant carjacked public space" and "Sidewalks for feet, cars in the street."
Giant officials and the project's developers "just went ahead and [created the parcel pickup lane] on their own," said Anne Thiesen, the area's advisory neighborhood commissioner.
Stanley Jackson, the city's deputy mayor for planning and economic development, said the driveway was constructed without city permits. In a brief interview, Jackson said the lane -- about half the width that Giant had wanted -- was an "interim compromise" to help the store open on time.
"We've fined the developer $10,000. It made no sense to tear it up," Jackson said. He added that he expects a permanent plan within 30 days after consultations among the city, developers and residents.
The store needs the lane for parcel pickup for senior citizens and the disabled, said Barry F. Scher, Giant's vice president of public affairs.
"We think it's a good compromise," Scher said of the current arrangement. "What you see today will be changed within a month." The lane will be defined by trees and a tiled surface to improve pedestrian safety, he said.
But the pickets said sidewalks and vehicles do not mix, and they pointed out that the 52,563-square-foot store has a two-story parking garage.
"It's clear what they brought here is their suburban mentality," Baldessari said.
Jackson and Graham touted the economic impact the store will have on the neighborhood. Eighty-five percent of the 120 employees are local residents, Jackson said, and the supermarket will soon replace an outdated Giant nearby on 14th Street.
"Our community has been starving for this opportunity," Jackson said.
A 22-year resident of the area, Cornelia Bell, 50, happily pulled a shopping cart with a few bags of groceries from the store. She said she remains ecstatic about the store but became upset when a protester pleaded his case.
After a few seconds of thinking and scanning the driveway, Bell was soon advocating the cause to Cecil Hill, 47, who grew up in the neighborhood and had traveled from his Northeast home to see the store.
"Why would they do that [when] they've got a parking lot upstairs?" Bell said. "You've got to think about safety here, c'mon, Cecil."