Briggs Chaney Marketplace lost its anchor grocery store eight months ago, to the surprise and dismay of the local community. Some feared that the loss would result in a “food desert” for the area, given that 26% of households in the area don’t have access to a car and therefore have limited options to travel to nearby grocers.
Fortunately, those fears did not materialize, and a new grocer will open at 13814 Outlet Drive, Silver Spring, MD 20904, where the Safeway used to be. A ribbon-cutting ceremony is planned for the March 9, 2017 at 10 am, according to an announcement from East County Regional Services Center (ESRSC) Director Jewru Bandeh earlier this week.
Global Food comes to East County
Global Food of Woodbridge, VA will be occupying the 44,678 square-foot space, with an anticipated open date of March 9, 2017.
Based on a conversation with a manager at their flagship store, Global Food is an international grocery store with both an online and brick-and-mortar presence. The products in their stores are organized by geographical region, such as Indian/Pakistani, Middle Eastern, European, Latin, Japanese, Korean, and American.
There are five Global Food locations in the DC metro area: Woodbridge, Manassas, Ashburn, and Alexandria in Virginia, and Montgomery Village in Maryland.
In a story published by The Korea Times, an L.A.-based newspaper, the CEO of Global Foods was quoted as saying:
“As a leader of the international market, we will showcase the world’s food for local residents here.”
– Kim Jong Taek, Global Food CEO
An international grocer seems like a logical choice for the Briggs Chaney area, considering that it has a large immigrant population. It’s worth noting that one-third of Montgomery County residents were born outside the US.
According to Saul Centers, which owns and manages Briggs Chaney Marketplace, Safeway still has several years remaining on their lease (they wouldn’t clarify exactly how many), so the new grocer would be entering under a sub-lease.
Beth Goldberg, Community & Public Affairs Senior Manager for Safeway’s Eastern Division explained that the Safeway partnered with a commercial real estate broker to find a new tenant, adding, “It’s quite common for major retailers to sub-lease spaces.” (She could not provide any other examples of sub-leases in Montgomery County, citing that information was proprietary).
Saul Centers manages over 20 other shopping centers in Maryland, including White Oak and Burtonsville Town Square, some of the largest shopping centers in Montgomery County, according to their website. Saul Centers also hosts community events at Briggs Chaney Marketplace throughout the year, including festivals around Halloween and Christmas.
It is worth noting here that a 1,500 square-foot international grocer continues to operate in the shopping center, and it is unclear on how Global Food might affect the family-owned business. I stopped by earlier this afternoon to ask the employees how the changes would affect them. The cashier shrugged and replied, “Who knows?” She added that her business has already suffered in the past year, because people would often visit her shop to buy hard-to-find Caribbean goods after doing their main shopping trip at Safeway, and when the anchor store closed, customer traffic fell.
“We were blindsided” by the closure
The property manager for Briggs Chaney Marketplace, Saul Centers, was apparently caught off guard when Safeway decided to leave. Alan Gersh, who is responsible for leasing the center, described being “blindsided” and “shocked as anyone else”.
Gersh mentioned that Safeway made a significant investment five years ago when they remodeled the space with new lighting and floors, and that business and traffic at the shopping center has been stable for years. Along with Ross Dress for Less, Safeway was one of the original tenants in the shopping center when it opened approximately 25 years ago.
Many local residents were concerned that the loss of the Safeway would spiral into more vacancies, similar to what happened in Burtonsville Crossing when Giant moved out and prevented another anchor grocery store from moving in. County Council staffer Brian Anleu reassured community members, “I don’t expect this situation to turn out like Burtonsville. I imagine that Saul Centers is going to want to find a replacement as soon as possible.”
Brian’s predictions have been accurate so far. According to the lease plan on Saul Centers’ website, the shopping center is still over 90% leased despite not having an anchor grocery store. I visit the shopping center several times a month, and although there is considerably less activity, the stores still see a lot of business and there are lots of cars in the parking lot at all times of the day.
Gersh insists that Briggs Chaney Marketplace is “still a great shopping center” with excellent tenants and a robust diversity of stores and restaurants.
The manager at the Briggs Chaney Deli, where I sometimes buy beer and wine, commented that the Safeway closure didn’t really affect their business. She explained, “The community, they know we’re here. They keep coming.”
Representatives of Saul Centers and Safeway noted that the closure was brought about in part by a recent merger with Albertons, which in turn is owned by a private equity firm. They claimed that the owners simply decided to close less-profitable firms in order to maximize profits. Indeed, other Safeway stores in the DC metro area closed last year, including Seat Pleasant and Rockville locations.
Allegedly, the Safeway at Briggs Chaney Marketplace had some of the lowest revenues of the dozens of grocery stores managed by Saul Centers, so the closure was also due to what the leasing agent described as a “lack of support from the community”.
When asked to explain why the store closed, Safeway insisted it was a decision based on their bottom line. They responded with the following statement:
“We continuously evaluate operations and store performances to ensure a strong overall business. The Briggs Chaney Plaza store had been unprofitable for some time, and we came to the difficult determination that we could not make the store consistently profitable in the long run.”
Beth Goldberg, Senior Manager,
Community & Public Affairs, Safeway
Some people also believe that one contributing factor to the store’s decline in profitability was the loss of its liquor license. In 2010, the Montgomery County Board of Liquor License Commissioners approved the transfer of Safeway’s license to sell beer and wine from Briggs Chaney to Olney. Jewru suggested at meeting of the East County Citizens Advisory Board after the closure that the transfer may have affected the store’s profit margins and reduced its appeal for customers that live closer to other grocery stores that are not allowed to sell alcohol.
Many believe crime played a role, but claim unfounded
The popular belief that the closure was due to crime is not supported by representatives from Saul Centers, Safeway, and several Montgomery County officials.
Upon hearing the news, I posted a question to the Burtonsville Facebook page and sparked a very active discussion, which exposed a wide spectrum of responses. Many people pointed out that there are multiple grocery stores within a ten-minute drive of Briggs Chaney, not realizing that those are inaccessible to a significant portion of the population in the area because they lack access to a vehicle. Others expressed concern for the community and offered to find solutions to fix the problem. However, the most common expression was frustration and concern about crime and density in the area.
Local blogger Dan Reed, who grew up in the area, posted the announcement about the closure on the Facebook page for Just Up The Pike. Dan had been alerted by local resident C. Patrick Zilliacus, who
suggested was told by an employee that the cause of the closure was shoplifting [correction, see below].
However, the rumors that crime played a role in the closure have been dismissed by people more familiar with the data.
At an April meeting of the East County Citizens Advisory Board, MCPD Commander Jones noted that the crime statistics are “not as bad” as people perceive them to be. Saul Centers leasing agent Gersh also pointed out that the crime rates at Briggs Chaney are “not much different” from any other shopping centers in Montgomery County. And a manager at Safeway familiar with Briggs Chaney who declined to be quoted also confirmed that the decision was based on economics rather than any threat from crime.
Community and County took quick action to prevent “food desert”
Within days of hearing of the closure, Jewru, the ESCRC Director, began coordinating with the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation, Worksource Montgomery, and the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation to assist the affected employees, neighboring tenants, and local community.
Safeway stated that the displaced employees were offered positions at other stores. Whether or not the employees did accept the offer is unclear.
“When a location closes, our Human Resources team works diligently to identify opportunities at other stores in our division, with the goal of placing as many associates as possible in some capacity in a manner that is consistent with applicable laws and/or labor agreements. All Briggs Chaney Plaza employees were given the opportunity to relocate to other stores.”
Beth Goldberg, Safeway
A few weeks later, the East County Citizens Advisory Board issued a letter to County Executive Ike Leggett, requesting the County help the property manager find a replacement tenant. Since then, Jewru has been coordinating closely with Saul Centers and Safeway to prevent Briggs Chaney from becoming a “food desert”.
Local nonprofits which had already been active in the area, such as the Manna Food Center and IMPACT Silver Spring, stepped up their community outreach efforts as well to assist the families maintain access to high-quality, affordable food choices. Jewru noted in an email earlier this week,
“The owners are working hard to get the store open. They are working with Worksource Montgomery to recruit employees for the new store. I continue to assist with community outreach and this planned event.
“I am also trying to arrange a meeting next week between community food assistance providers and Global Food to discuss partnership possibilities to support their programs.”
Jewru Bandeh, ECRSC Director
The Manna Food Center, which operates food distribution sites for families in need throughout the County, followed up with the following statement:
“It has been very gratifying to see business, policy makers, and the nonprofit community spring into action to maintain good food options in the East County. Manna is looking forward to helping Global Food reduce its food waste and share surpluses by participating in our Community Food Rescue network.
“Thanks to Jewru’s invitation, we’ll be at the meeting next week to discuss options for recovering and redirecting items, that are especially welcomed by members of immigrant communities.”
Jackie DeCarlo, CEO of Manna Food Center
Soon after the Safeway closed, a group of community leaders brought a farmers market to the area to temporarily help close the food gap. The market, organized by Milk Lady Markets, opened in Briggs Chaney Marketplace every Saturday from June to September.
The farmers market had already been operating in Briggs Chaney neighborhood for a while. Prior to the Safeway closure, the Briggs Chaney Farmers Market operated for several years in the parking lot of the East County Recreation Center on weekends.
While the farmers market was helpful, its impact was limited: it only operated one day a week. Although it attempted to cater to the community and even accepted WIC/food stamps, some locals were skeptical of the appeal of a farmers market in a predominantly low-income neighborhood. The farmers market has since moved to Brookeville, north of Olney, a half-hour drive or two-hour bus ride from Briggs Chaney.
The new Global Food grocery store will be a welcome addition for Briggs Chaney Marketplace, and who knows: it might even be more successful than the old Safeway.
What can you do to get involved?
- Support local businesses by shopping and dining at Briggs Chaney Marketplace.
- Follow Briggs Chaney Marketplace on Facebook.
- Attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony on March 9, 2017 at 10 am (13814 Outlet Drive, Silver Spring, MD 20904).
- If you know a family that needs assistance putting food on the table, refer them to Manna Food (301-424-1130), which operates a food distribution site every Friday afternoon from 2-4 pm at the East County Regional Services Center (3300 Briggs Chaney Road).
Correction: The original post incorrectly suggested that Mr Zilliacus believed that theft was a cause of the closure. He commented in response, “I was quoting directly what a Safeway employee told me just after the closure was announced”. The article has been corrected.