East of the Anacostia River, in Ward 8, they call it "the invisible supermarket."
For many years, residents in one of the poorest parts of the District have been hearing that their long bus trips to grocery stores and last-minute dinners assembled from package-store dry goods would be history because a sprawling supermarket was coming to their neighborhood.
Soon. Next year. Later.
"I'll believe it when I see a brick in the ground," said Sandra Seegars, an advisory neighborhood commissioner, who is doubtful that the land at Stanton Road and Alabama Avenue SE will ever bear food. "Junk food is easy to find out here. But a decent supermarket? I don't believe they'll ever bring it here."
Signed documents say it's really going to happen this time.
Giant Food signed a lease agreement in March. Company officials hope to break ground next month and open the supermarket in late 2006 or early 2007.
The company expanded original plans for a 55,000-square-foot store to 63,000 square feet. It will be the chain's newest model, with a pharmacy, expanded produce department, deli, ethnic food section and fresh, prepared foods department, said Barry F. Scher, Giant's vice president of public affairs. It will also have an aisle that will be a miniature version of a Staples office supply store.
The store will employ about 150 people, most from the neighborhood. Hiring will begin five months before it opens, Scher said.
Marion Barry first proposed a retail development with a supermarket in the mid-1980s, when he was mayor. In the late 1990s, rumors began circulating that the abandoned Camp Simms National Guard site, which the city bought from the federal government for $1.8 million 20 years ago, would become the commercial hub that Ward 8 residents have been hungry for. No major chain has a supermarket in that section of the city. In Ward 7, to the north, there are two.
According to a 2001 study of the food distribution system in the District by the Capital Area Food Bank, seven retail stores serving about 70,000 residents in Ward 8 sold produce. West of the Anacostia, in the more affluent Ward 2, there were 34 such stores for roughly the same population.
The 25-acre Camp Simms site has been a sore spot for years. At community meetings, residents have taken their leaders to task over the supermarket project. In the past, they were told that the delay was due partly to fallout from the site's past life as a military installation. Metro construction crews working in the area found several mortar shells.
Then residents learned that to control erosion, the Army Corps of Engineers used slag, a smelting byproduct, said Carol Chatham, spokeswoman for developer William C. Smith & Co., which is handling the project. The slag had to be evaluated before a decision could be made to move it, Chatham said.
Backhoes, tractors and bulldozers roared and puffed on the property this summer, removing slag more than a foot deep over thousands of square feet and burying it far beneath another part of the property. That site will be topped with trees and shrubs, Chatham said.
The supermarket is part of the $37 million Camp Simms redevelopment project. The plans include more than 110,000 square feet of retail space and 75 new single-family homes, city officials said.
Chatham said that the street configuration for the housing portion has been completed and that street names have been decided. "They will be Tanner Place, Anderson Place and Cooke Drive -- all named for prominent African American residents," she added.
"No one is more anxious for this to get off the ground than us."