A LIFELINE to Anacostia is in danger of being severed; the Safeway food chain intends to abandon its outlet in the commercial heart of that impoverished neighborhood, depriving thousands of residents of their only nearby supermaket. Though Safeway has agreed to postpone the closing from this month to the end of the year, officials appear firm in their decision to leave 14th Street and Good Hope Road SE. They cite low profit margins, a rundown facility and high rates of pilferage as reasons for closing down.
Certainly, those are justifiable business grounds for giving up the branch. But the supermarket can be rescued. And it should be. As noted in an article on today's op-ed page, there are ways in which private industry and community organizations elsewhere have jointed forces to keep supermarkets alive and profitable in poor neighborhoods. Anacostia is fortunate enough to have a stable community of merchants and solid citizen groups that can be galvanized for a rescue mission.
Here is what they can do, given some assistance from the right places:
Money is needed for repairs; some joint ventures have been financed by Small Business Administration loans. Another possible source might be the Corporation for Youth Enterprises. This nonprofit group has federal funds from the Community Services Administration and the U.S. Departments of Labor and Commerce, which are intended for enterprises in five cities, including Washington, that emphasize employment of local youths 18 and 24 years old.
Industry expertise -- to manage the store -- is essential. Though an independent operator might be able to take on the job successfully, other experiences point to better luck with management by a chain, even a small one with a good track record. There are some successful small chains, including minority-owned operations in business for years, that could be approached.
A community stake in the business is important. Anacostia's merchants are interested in trying to raise some capital that could make the community a business partner. As in other cities, the operation should hire as many neighborhood people as possible. In due course, there may also stock-option arrangements for employees. There steps tend to help curb vandalism and pilferage, since a neighborhood develops a stronger interest in protecting its own establishment.
Finally, speed is essential. Initiating and coordinating these various arrangements can be complicated and time-consuming -- and the end of the year is not all that far off. Still, with vigorous assistant and encouragement from Mayor Barry's administration, the federal government and, during the transition, Safeway as well, the people of Anacostia can save that supermarket.