When a Grocery Store is Labeled ‘Ghetto’

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A hallmark of neighborhood change and gentrification are shiny, new grocery stores. The 32-year-old O Street Giant in Shaw closes today to make way for a modernized Giant set to open in 2013. It’s part of the multi-million dollar CityMarket at O development, which includes 600 condos, a boutique hotel and 84 affordable senior housing units.

The O Street Giant has gotten a bad rap throughout the years; there have been health inspection problems, rancid food and rodents, as TBD’s Jenny Rogers reports. Some who regard the store with disdain refer to the place as “Ghetto Giant,” a problematic moniker implying poor and black. But when the store first opened in 1979, it was “declared a triumph for a neighborhood still recovering from riots and struggling with crime,” Rogers writes:

The Washington Post printed that it “symbolizes the transformation that has occurred in Shaw, once the city’s worst slum.” Then-mayor Marion Barry cut a white satin ribbon and proclaimed, “It’s the good times for Shaw.”

According to reports at the time, the O Street Giant was the first new grocery store to open in the District in 10 years. Post writer LaBarbara Bowman noted its “gourmet foods”—including caviar, pickled mushrooms, and Swedish pancake mix—and “gourmet produce”—pomegranates and papayas. For less discerning shoppers, the store offered “pork and beef neckbone, large galvanized trash cans and large packages of rice and beans.” These diverse offerings, it was predicted, would serve both Shaw’s poor and its newly returning middle-class residents.

Decades later, the store certainly doesn’t symbolize neighborhood transformation, nor is it a model of serving low- and middle-income residents. But despite all of its problems, the O Street Giant remained quite busy. It was open 24 hours a day, and more importantly, it was the only full-service supermarket in the neighborhood. Safeway and Whole Foods, more expensive than Giant, are quite a hike away (about .05 to 1 mile away). If you don’t have a car or have kids in tow, O Street Giant is all you had.

Giant is offering a free shuttle to the Columbia Heights Giant, which picks up on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 9:30 a.m. and Sundays at noon, which is far from convenient.

Whole Foods Opens in Foggy Bottom

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Whole Foods now has four locations in D.C., including the P Street Whole Foods pictured above.

D.C. gets another Whole Foods today. The grocer, viewed by many as one of the most obvious signs of gentrification, has opened the doors at 22nd and I Streets NW in Foggy Bottom.

Foggy Bottom is a far cry from a rapidly changing neighborhood — it’s been decidedly wealthy for a couple of decades. But it wasn’t always that way. Washington Circle, a stone’s throw from the new Whole Foods, was an Irish gang crossroads in the late 1800s. Tenement dwellings, smoke stacks and slums dominated Foggy Bottom through the first half of the 20th century, when most residents lived in abject poverty. Much different from expensive homes and grocers with organic salad bars.

Aldi Won’t Accept Government Subsidy Payments

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Aldi has plans to open a store in Northeast D.C., but customers won’t be able to use federal Women Infants, and Children program subsidies to purchase groceries there. The Gazette reports that Aldi doesn’t accept WIC payments because the store sells Aldi brands only:

A spokeswoman for the ALDI grocery chain said federal government guidelines governing the Women Infants and Children program precludes them from taking payments from customers enrolled in the program because the guidelines require that those customers buy only certain national brands of food. The chain offers its own brands of food, the spokeswoman said.

… ALDI will be unable to offer WIC because of its reliance on its own brands, a spokeswoman for ALDI Inc. said.

“We have explored ways for the WIC program to work within our operational structure,” spokeswoman Julie Ketay wrote in an e-mailed statement. “However, since the majority of our grocery products are under our own ALDI select brands and are not national brands, unfortunately, we simply don’t qualify within the program’s current guidelines.”

WIC is meant support low-income women, children and infants, and part of the program includes food subsidies. Aldi is known for selling low-cost items, something the German-based grocer is able to pull off in large-part because it only sells Aldi brands. Its reputation as a cheap grocery store has led to some debate over the type of clientele that would be attracted to the D.C. store, which is being built in a gentrifying area. But those using WIC subsidies may find themselves patronizing the nearby Safeway instead.