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D.C. residents celebrate new supermarket east of the Anacostia River

People gather Tuesday in Southeast Washington for the grand opening of a Lidl, the first full-service supermarket to open east of the Anacostia River in 15 years. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)

D.C. residents on Tuesday celebrated the opening of a new supermarket east of the Anacostia River for the first time in 15 years — offering a much-needed grocer in a sector of the city that contains the highest concentration of food deserts.

The District’s first-ever Lidl food market opens this week at Skyland Town Center, an 18.5-acre mixed-use development that city officials broke ground on in 2014, though they are quick to note that plans to redevelop the site have been in the works for 30 years because of a litany of obstacles and legal delays — so long that five D.C. mayors have touched the project.

In the past 15 months, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) has welcomed several amenities to Skyland: In January, she unveiled D.C.’s first drive-through Starbucks; last year, a similar group of officials celebrated the first residential building to open at the site, the Crest. But she was particularly animated at Lidl’s unveiling Tuesday, reiterating that while many city leaders helped shepherd the development over the years, she will be the one to see it through.

“Thirty years ago, residents of this community weren’t satisfied with what was happening; they went to their elected officials and said: ‘We want to transform this. We’re tired of having to always cross the bridge, and we’re tired of having to always go to Maryland,’” Bowser said. “We want every family to have a quality grocery store near their home.”

Before Lidl, there were four full-service grocery stores in Wards 7 and 8 — a paltry amount compared with the dozens of groceries found west of the Anacostia River, a natural dividing line that has separated some of the city’s poorest and historically underserved neighborhoods from the most affluent.

“Now this is becoming less of a food desert,” said Donna Morrow, 75, who lives in the nearby Fairlawn community. “Fresh food and vegetables — and deals.”

Officials said they hope Lidl will attract people from all over, but they also discussed its importance as a community pillar: Of 45 jobs filled at the store so far, 90 percent of the positions have gone to residents of Wards 7 and 8, officials said. Some of those who gathered Tuesday drove over from Maryland and other corners of the city to get a glimpse at the store, which opens to customers Wednesday morning.

“A new store for our community will help out a lot, especially for the Black community,” said Ryan Powell, a 48-year-old Anacostia resident who showed up at Lidl on Tuesday to apply for a position as a cashier. “Hopefully I can get hired here, too.”

Bowser becomes latest D.C. mayor to break ground on long-stalled Skyland project

On Tuesday afternoon, Bowser toured Lidl as residents perused options and tasted free samples. Among them was longtime Ward 7 resident Deborah Mack, who said more options for produce and vegetables were sorely needed in the community.

“It means a lot to me not to have to go across the bridge, to have this right in my backyard,” Mack said as she examined Lidl’s selections of spices and condiments. “It’s nice to have another option, another store.”

Among those who have waited decades for the store to finally arrive: Ward 7 D.C. Council member Vincent C. Gray (D), who stood proudly in front of Lidl on Tuesday, despite being one month removed from having surgery on a torn Achilles’ tendon.

“I don’t know if we ever thought this was really going to happen,” said Gray, a former mayor. He rattled off some of the stores and amenities that have cropped up at Skyland over the course of its development: a barbershop, a bank and several restaurants.

“We didn’t give up, we never gave up,” he added. “And now, we have a Lidl.”