Investment in Grocery Stores in Washington DC Helps to Lessen Food Deserts: 21 Stores Open; 12 Stores Under Construction, and 4 More in the Pipeline

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Providing access to essential goods including fresh food is a priority for the Washington DC Economic Partnership, DC's economic development marketing organization. WDCEP has attracted over 100 new retailers and grocers to the city, many located in neighborhoods and corridors where residents had little or no access to goods and services.

21 new grocery stores have opened in Washington, DC since 2000 a result of the District of Columbia’s deliberate strategy to provide access to healthy food to all residents in all neighborhoods. The majority of the stores are over 30,000 including national chains such as Giant, Harris Teeter, Costco and Trader Joe's. The mix includes several smaller urban stores including Aldi, Yes Organic Market, and Fairlawn Markets.

A 2010 study, When Healthy Food is Out of Reach, found that DC’s 43 full-service grocery stores are not distributed evenly across the city and there is still a significant “grocery gap” in Wards 4, 5, 7 and 8. “Washington, DC has undertaken a very aggressive approach to bring essential goods and services to the residents especially in those neighborhoods that lack retail services, including grocers,” said Keith Sellars, President/CEO Washington, DC Economic Partnership. WDCEP has courted grocers of all sizes to come into DC and worked with those already here to enhance and expand their presence. The focus on food has paid off. Seventeen of the stores opened since 2000 are new stores, five of them are replacements for obsolete and older facilities. The investment in grocery accounts for over 800,000 sf of new store space to date, and close to 600,000 sf of space under construction.

“The expansion of grocers in the city is partly a response to residential growth but also the District’s strategic campaign to fill a void in our retail mix,” said Sellars. Today there are eight grocery stores under construction and four additional stores in the pipeline. The WDCEP Neighborhood Profiles provides detailed data on 50 neighborhoods across the city and has been a useful tool in guiding grocers in their site selection.

Retail Leakage in DC is estimated to be $1 billion. “The grocers have stepped up to the call for action,” said Sellars. “Most of the stores are full service, all of the stores offer fresh food and produce; and many of these stores have commitments to buy locally,” said Sellars. Harris Teeter is one of the newer brands to enter the market. The company opened two stores in 2008 in the Adams Morgan and Capitol Hill neighborhoods and a third store in NE in NoMa. A fourth store is under construction the SE in the Capitol Riverfront and is scheduled to open in 2014.

“DC is a natural market for our expansion based on its location, the growth underway and gaps in the market,” said Fred Morganthall, President, Harris Teeter. “DC like many urban cities had a real need for full service grocers and we saw an opportunity to become a fixture in many of the cities emerging markets.” Harris Teeter has quickly become part of the community with its commitment to hire local residents and its local produce program.

Many of the stores that have opened are part of new developments or redevelopment projects including: a 55,000 SF Safeway on 4th St in SE; the 53,000 SF Giant state of the art store in Columbia Heights as part of the Tivoli Theater Redevelopment; and the 154,000 SF Costco at the New York & South Dakota Avenue, NE the company’s 619th store worldwide and the anchor of the Shops at Dakota Crossing, the retail arm of a planned community in the Fort Lincoln neighborhood.

Annual grocery sales in DC exceed $850 million but there is still a gap of $100 m. The new stores have resulted in over 1,500 new jobs. The stores have also catalyzed other retail development. The presence of a grocer has also helped to drive housing development in many of the corridors throughout the city. Research has shown that once a grocer was committed or opened, the appeal of that neighborhood increases.

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A 501(c)(3) organization, the Washington, DC Economic Partnership promotes business opportunities throughout the District and contributes to business retention and attraction activities.

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Catherine Timko

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