WASHINGTON (WUSA9) - Expired meat, moldy produce and long lines. That’s what greeted D.C. Councilmember Vince Gray during his surprise inspection of the two Safeway grocery stores that serve more than 70,000 people in Ward 7.
Reporters followed the Councilmember as he walked the aisles and confronted managers about the state of the Minnesota Avenue NE store.
Customers were just told last week the store is now closing at 9 p.m. Managers changed the hours from 6 a.m.-10 p.m. to 7 a.m.-9 p.m. just last week.
“It’s clearly a food desert,” said Deanwood resident Angele Doyne. “Here people don’t have access to fresh fruit and vegetables and the hours here are going to be cut so that’s leaving an even greater disparity; whereas, people in other parts of the city have lots of access to fresh fruits and vegetables. The community feels like this place doesn’t have the best interest of the community at heart.”
“I don’t like coming here anymore because I hate standing in the lines waiting,” said Julia Jones who has shopped at Minnesota Avenue NE location on and off for 40 years.
Assistant store manager Jerome Jackson just got the job six months ago. He said he believes he offers quality food and service at the store.
“We have people who open up packages and we’ve found meat in other departments," he said. "A few weeks ago there was a shooting down the street and sometimes people come in…you know, (under the influence of drugs).”
When asked if he believed Northeast, D.C. was a more challenging area to run a grocery store, he replied, “no, I’m not saying that at all but we want to make sure the well-being of the customers and employees are taken care of.”
WUSA9 found the same long lines at the Alabama Avenue SE Safeway Thursday morning. But we did see an assistant manager at check out and the Councilmember said the food was in better shape, but the store was a mess with knocked over candy displays, an unopened package of pineapples left on a case of water, and left over drinks piled up on a counter.
“Short of shutting them down this will help people understand that they’re image is being affected,” said Councilmember Gray.
Gray will take his results to District managers and demand they clean up their act. In the meantime, he has introduced two bills to help incentivize grocery stores to move into Ward 7: one calls for the city to build a grocery store and place outside managers to run it, the other lowers property taxes for new grocery stores in Ward 7.
Safeway spokesperson Beth Goldberg released the following statement:
"For more than 30 years, Safeway has been part of Washington, DC’s Ward 7 community. Our customers are of the utmost importance to us and we have actively worked to improve their experience at our Ward 7 stores. This includes increasing check-out-lane staff; expanding our product and service offerings to include delivery, more fresh options and easy-to-find favorites throughout the store; refreshing the layout and organization inside the store; and continuing to support the Ward 7 community as we always have. These changes are in the process of being implemented or are already part of our store operations."
Councilmember Gray released his recommendations:
1. Establish a customer complaint hotline
2. Provide customer complaint cards in store that that customer satisfaction group gets to review on a regular bases
As of today, we did not see evidence of this in the 2 stores.
Additional concerns regarding Safeway that are not addressed in their work plan:
-Cleanliness of Restrooms at Good Hope Rd Market place (lack of tissue and paper towels & soap
-HR/Hiring from the community: In April, Safeway said they hosted a job fair within the past 60 days, interviewed 80 candidates with less than a 50 % retention rate for Minnesota Ave store—Community proposed to assist with recruiting efforts and outreach around hiring on an ongoing bases. Safeway had not engaged community to assist with recruiting employees from community to date.
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