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Safeway preview: Aisle be there

Freezer reach-ins have no-heat, fog-treated doors and LED lighting. They will be condensation-free. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

As my hardhat was tilting side to side during Tuesday's preview tour of the Georgetown Safeway, I wondered whether the store's nickname -- Social Safeway -- would morph to Sustainable Safeway. Shelves are in place, but bare, as construction crews finish the 71,000-foot interior.

It has been 376 days since this location was closed for renovation. When it opens May 6, it will be set up to qualify as the District's first green, LEED-certified supermarket. Here are some of the reasons why, which my colleagues on the Local homepage and in print will explain in spiffy graphics next month:

  • Composting of organic materials

  • Recycling of cardboard, plastic bags, paper, wood, fat, bones and grease

  • Diversion of up to 85 percent of store waste away from local landfills

  • Energy-saving measures in refrigeration, windows, lighting

  • Onsite treatment of 90 percent of its storm-water runoff (which will then be released into the city's storm-drain system)

  • Building materials all manufactured within 400 miles

  • "Coffin cases" (the industry term for those low, open refrigerated cases; nice, eh?) to consume less energy

  • Low-emissions paint and adhesives

  • Priority parking for low-emission vehicles

  • Exterior design that's friendly to Dumbarton Oaks in back

  • Nuts get the carousel treatment. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

    That all makes me think kindly toward the company, as it seems committed to the greening of its stores. Company spokesmen with properly fitting hardhats said that Safeway stores are 50 percent more energy-efficient than they were 10 years ago. By the end of 2011, the company hopes to have 14 stores LEED-certified.

    But as a food shopper, I was interested in convenience and comfort. So here's other news you can use:

  • There are 50 more parking spaces than the old asphalt lot had (a total of 260, counting the ones below the second-floor Safeway retail space and the parking deck in back).

  • Parking will be validated (with purchase).

  • Overall store lighting is easier on the eyes.

  • Starbucks, Bergmann's Cleaners and SunTrust Bank will be in-store, while several other retail outlets will open about a month later on the lower level.

  • A large Signature Cafe will have lots of casual seating (including around a modern fireplace), WiFi, large flat-screen televisions and a balcony that looks out on Wisconsin Avenue. That space will feature a grab-and-go section for milk, etc. Shoppers will be able to pay at a designated cafe kiosk without having to head down to the bank of checkout lanes.

  • Imagine that! I found it funny. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

  • Freezer reach-in cases have no-heat, fog-treated doors and LED lighting, which will make treks down those aisles more enjoyable, no doubt.

  • A new, carousel-style nut bar in the produce department will offer warmed nuts that can be ground onsite to create spreads and butter.

  • And, from the looks of signage already in place, marinating at no charge.

  • Looks like the same scanners for self-checkout are in place that I find more temperamental than the system used at Giant, and it looks like the majority of lanes are set up for real live cashiers.

    • Shoppers, rev those engines.

      -- Bonnie Benwick

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      By The Food Section  |  April 8, 2010; 2:00 PM ET
      Categories:  Shopping  | Tags: Bonnie Benwick, shopping  
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      Article,if it is indeed that, reads like a PR hand-out. An infomercial, or free advertising for a corporate giant that can afford its own ad budget. Big Yawn.

      Posted by: ridem | April 8, 2010 10:02 PM | Report abuse

      A brand new Safeway is opening in SW too. Of course, they left us without any grocery store for ten days, but, hey, it'll have a sushi bar.

      It's also replacing the Safeway that had long been considered the worst in the country, but no one is willing to cover the poor service, poor cleanliness, or poor selection because the neighborhood includes poor people.

      Posted by: Fabrisse | April 8, 2010 11:49 PM | Report abuse

      Georgetown was the worst Safeway in the country? Please. Try the "Soviet Safeway" or some of the other Safeways in the area.

      The Georgetown makeover is long overdue -- as are makeovers at most of Safeway's other area locations which are years behind Giant and are not even in the same galaxy as Wegman's, etc. Little wonder that so many new chains are moving in to grab market share in parts of this area, which is home to of the most discriminating and affluent shoppers in the country.

      The one area where I think Safeway REALLY needs to improve is the caliber of its employees; Safeway seem to hire anybody who walks through the door without regard to their attitude toward customers (how about saying "Hello" when you pass within 10 feet of a shopper like they do a Lowe's and Home Depot?) and work ethic (how about picking up trash on the floor instead of walking right past it as if it isn't there?), ability to communicate (without hollering at each other from one aisle to the next), basic manners, willingness to wash their uniform or to open additional check-out lines when queues form, etc. I mean, I sometimes think Safeway has sunk almost as low as bottom-feeder Magruder's in terms of hiring.

      In my experience and opinion, some of the employees at 5000 Bradley Blvd. are just awful to be around, as are some of the workers (and I use the term loosely from what I've encountered) at the 42nd St. NW location. Last time I was at 42nd St., I watched an employee collecting carts in the parking lot -- when he came across a cart with a gum wrapper or cash register receipt in it, he just crumpled it up and dropped it on the ground. I mean really.

      I'll add that Giant always seems to hire their employees with a much higher level of scrutiny. Not sure how they pull that off -- I understand Safeway and Giant employees both belong to the same union, but apparently Giant just picks and chooses (and unchooses people who don't measure up) more carefully.

      Safeway reminds me of Pan Am or Eastern Airlines -- a once great icon that's become old and tired and been overtaken by the JetBlues of the world. Pan Am and Eastern are, of course, gone, having been beaten at their own game; time will tell if Safeway suffers a similar fate.

      Posted by: jfw9 | April 9, 2010 5:39 AM | Report abuse

      Nice that they're LEED certified, but what about the food they sell?

      Let me guess - they haven't banned HFCS or vanillin or red dye #4 from their shelves, have they?

      Posted by: Post43 | April 9, 2010 7:28 AM | Report abuse

      >> and it looks like the majority of lanes are set up for
      >> real live cashiers.

      Since Safeway never has enough staff in their stores, I assume most lanes will actually be empty - regardless of how many customers are waiting to check out.

      Posted by: richards2 | April 9, 2010 8:36 AM | Report abuse

      Hmmm. They're reopening two stores. One in Georgetown, one in Southwest. I'm sure no one is the least bit surprised about which one got the fancy upgrades. Of course, the one in Southwest was grim at best so anything will be an improvement. However, why not invest the same monies in Southwest as in Georgetown? Oh, wait- is it because there's no rich people or tourists?

      Posted by: DCJenninTX | April 9, 2010 10:30 AM | Report abuse

      Hard to believe the Georgetown Safeway has been closed for over a year.

      When I lived in DC in the 70s, they kept the original Georgetown Safeway open while they built the new one behind it. (I presume this is the one now being replaced.) Then, when the new store was ready, they tore the old one down overnight,redid the whole parking lot and opened the new store the next morning.

      Safeway didn't want to miss a day of business because the Georgetown store was the highest grossing location in the country. I guess that's changed?

      Posted by: jhpurdy | April 9, 2010 10:38 AM | Report abuse

      @jfw9: Um, the Georgetown Safeway _was_ the Soviet Safeway. Just down the street from the Russian compound. Get it? Plus Fabrisse was referring to SW being the worst Safeway in the country. And I can attest to that; we lived one block from SW Safeway but chose to do our shopping in Virginia.

      (More on names: The Capitol Hill Safeway, before it was upgraded with the arrival of gentrification was the UnSafeway, and SW was the Super UnSafeway.)

      Posted by: dcinvests | April 9, 2010 10:55 AM | Report abuse

      @dcinvests: Actually, the "Soviet Safeway" is the one near Dupont Circle on 17th St/Corcoran, because it has/had long lines and no food.

      Posted by: Bethany76 | April 9, 2010 11:20 AM | Report abuse

      @dcinvests -- point take on the store Fabrisse was talking about -- I misread the comment. Thanks for the clarification.

      Regarding self check out: What a shame that there won't be many self check out lanes -- there are certainly plenty of Georgetown U. students who'll patronize the Georgetown store, and my observation of college kids at other stores is that they're heavy users of self check out lanes. Certainly self check out is the wave of the future.

      Regarding who works at which stores, I've found that it barely makes a difference what neighborhood you're from. You can go to a grocery store in Gaithersburg or Rockville and see people in store uniforms getting into and out of cars with DC plates.

      Regarding "fancy improvements, stores in many neighborhoods are barely break-even propositions for many chains because of the way customers treat the place and because of shrinkage. If people in Georgetown will be drawn to a nicer store ans spend more while they're in there, then great. Kudos to Safeway or any other store for responding to consumer preference. People in some neighborhoods should be thrilled that they have a local grocery store at all; there are many parts of the city where stores simply won't go because it's not economically feasible. If the city would offer some property-tax-free land in some of the worst neighborhoods to incent stores to move in, it might make a world of difference.

      Posted by: jfw9 | April 9, 2010 1:01 PM | Report abuse

      "Shoppers, rev those engines". Yes, with 50 more parking spots, and all of them free, folks can drive to a crap foodstore in Georgetown. Because driving to the never-congested driver's paradise of Georgetown is quite a "sustainable" activity that is more than offset by some recycle bins and bamboo trim. Well done, "Sustainable Safeway".

      I can see the justification for someplace like Trader Joes having more parking (only one in the city, unique products, it's a destination), this Safeway is, at the end of the day, just a Safeway. Nobody's making the trip from Potomac or Petworth to go to it. It's going to serve folks who live within half a mile, who mostly are used to walking to get around.

      Waste is one thing, but stupid waste is just funny. +1 on the PanAm/Eastern/Safeway thought.

      Posted by: TheBoreaucrat | April 9, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

      Warm nut bars. Well, department stores like Gimbels used to have them in their full service candy counters. Also great variety stores like G.C. Murphys had them also. Select GNC stores also made fresh peanut butter, back in the day.
      I used to hang out a lot in nut stores, as a kid, where you could buy a warmed assortment of nuts in a waxed paper pouch bag. I think the nut bar can be a fattening experience, unless you eat them walking home from the Social Safeway

      Posted by: ziggyzippy | April 14, 2010 1:48 PM | Report abuse

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