Why Safeway Matters

It was small, perhaps not 100% clean at all times, no fish counter, and any number of other complaints could be made about Zombie Safeway. And I had forgotten that its closure was due at least in part to code violations (shocking — shocking!!). But I don’t think its closure and zombification should be so easily dismissed, which is why I keep bringing it up. The Wheaton Safeway matters, for several reasons.

First, it wasn’t actually a bad store. It looked bad, or at least old — or, more charitably, “classic”! — but as is the case elsewhere in Wheaton, one shouldn’t judge a store (or restaurant) by the view from the street. Inside, too, it was imperfect, as with fish and cleanliness (maybe more accurately “orderliness”) mentioned above, but on the other hand it had surprisingly good quality produce, which was consistently better than the produce at the disappointing, newish Kensington Safeway.

We never did our major weekly shopping at the Wheaton Safeway, but we used it all the time for last-minute produce, dairy, or dry goods needs, primarily because it is far more convenient for us than braving mall traffic to get to Giant or going all the way up to H-Mart, which is fine for regular shopping but too far for a post-work quick trip. So convenience, for all of us in the East-of-Georgia and South-of-University quadrant, is point two. Happily, Hung Phat and Latino Mercado (and in a real pinch 7-Eleven) help fill the gap, but even combined they don’t have the product coverage that even a small Safeway has.

Three, the Safeway project is (I think) becoming symbolic of Wheaton’s would-be economic upgrade, and having the Zombie sit there, the little economic engine who can’t, is bad for morale and a sign that revitalization may still be far off in the distance. Now that Safeway is closed and the project is approved, starting demolition and putting the project in motion will be both symbolic and meaningful. Limbo makes me nervous; I worry that Wheaton is Vladimir and Godot ain’t coming.

I like zombies, poor innocent victims of anti-undead discrimination — although they seem relatively welcome in certain parts of MoCo. But I think there are better uses for this particular space. And I’ve never been very good at waiting patiently…


14 responses to “Why Safeway Matters

  1. As you point out, that Safeway was disgusting. I am all for the new Safeway…however, the parking situation is going to be impossible so I see it will be beneficial for those living walking distance to it. This was the major issue for the Wheaton Library and I am very happen that residents were able to fight and make sure it doesn’t get moved. I will still shop at Giant and the Kensington Safeway simply because there will be parking; I am not a fan of garage parking…

  2. Well, I think that the new Safeway design is appropriate for Wheaton’s urban setting and its proximity to public transportation. There are plenty of farther-out suburban communities where all the stores are surrounded by large amounts of surface parking. Wheaton, however, is moving away from that and taking advantage of the higher densities possible when there is good public transit nearby.

    As for the library issue, anyone who fought against building a library in ‘downtown’ Wheaton should make a visit to Rockville’s beautiful new library and then tell me that it’s a failure because of its lack of surface parking. They have a public garage nearby, but there’s also a large public garage (that is vastly underutilized) on Amherst Ave in Wheaton that would have worked well for the library. I used to work near the Rockville library and I can tell you that it helps to bring alot of life and activity to their town center. At any given time of day, the library would be filled with office workers, retirees, young children, and students meeting to work on projects. It has a great mix of people using it. With the existing Wheaton library somewhat detached from the action closer to the metro, I think it’s a lost opportunity to create a hub of community activity close to where all the redevelopment will be happening.

  3. Thanks to you both for the comments. I don’t think old Safeway was “disgusting” but I am happy for an upgrade, I just wish they would get on with it already. I, too, like the library where it is, although if they can afford the necessary staffing, I would love to see a small satellite library as part of a new downtown core, where they would have some public computers, reference books, a small kids section and you could order books and stuff for pickup but there wouldn’t be much on-site to browse. I think that kind of thing would be pretty popular, and useful. But you’d need at least two staff plus at least one security at all times, and that probably isn’t in the budget. Maybe by the time they get around to any of the rebuilding…
    But back to Safeway — yes, parking will be a killer, but as WheatonCalling says, the whole point of the Safeway+14storiesofapartments development is to create walkable density. The plan is to have 500 apartments and only 400 parking spots (not including Safeway-specific spots), thus forcing many residents to walk and use public tranport. Of course there will remain plenty of car-centric grocery options (maybe even a Costco! not holding breath on that though).

  4. Comment on the library…I have lived in Wheaton 39 years and that library is great where it is at. I have been to the old Rockville library and never liked it where it was and is now….the only benefit it has is the Government records they have, otherwise I stay away from it. A satellite library would be okay in downtown Wheaton for those that live in walking distance but the county made the right decision overall.
    Comment on Safeway…It’s great what they are doing to the Safeway and the general area of Wheaton. I just bought a home at bottom prices and look forward to the next 10 years gaining its value back again. However, the crime rate in the area has to be factored in as well as a good plan for total revitalization. Yes, everyone is concerned about the mom and pop shops in the area. I remember visiting Moby Dicks each week as a kid, Barnaby’s, Chicken Basket, Anchor Inn, etc., but over the last 10 years, I ride right up Georgia Avenue/Veirs Mill Road and very rarely stop at any place in Wheaton other than the Mall. The area lacks a solid base of money making establishments. Some might disagree but even many of these businesses are having a hard time because they can’t bring in “outside” customers to their businesses. Wheaton needs a serious facelift and I look forward to it one day looking like Silver Spring…bring on the new restaurants and big name stores (Costco) because I am tired of riding to Rockville Pike, Gaithersburg, and Bethesda.

  5. The problem with 14 stories of apartments is there is not the market for them in Wheaton at the moment…..which will result in them ending up as more HOC/Sec. 8 dumping for the county. As it stands now, every apartment complex in the downtown core (Ambassador, Amherst Sq. Pembridge Sq., MetroPointe) are either owned or operated as public housing by the county (for the record, its also the highest concentration of public housing anywhere in the county).

    A Safeway covered by more public housing brings visions of the old Waterfront Safeway rather than the new Georgetown one….

  6. thanks for the comment, one-star: not sure whether there is a market or not; the owners of MetroPointe claim it is essentially 100% full, even if it is 95% full that’s very good and suggests plenty of demand. If those figures are true, that is, which is tough to verify. As far as section 8 housing, I know a portion of MetroPointe is set aside for sec8, as is required by law for those sorts of developments, but I think it’s only a portion, maybe 10% (I’m just making that number up, but I don’t think it is more than that). If you have proof to the contrary, please provide. All this stuff is difficult to find information about and I would love for it all to be out in the open (maybe I just don’t know where to look).

    • Sorry, never got around to replying

      Amherst Sq and Pembridge Sq are owned by Montgomery Housing Partners, the Ambassador is owned by HOC, HOC hides their data but on their website they admit to the MetroPointe and Georgian (up by Han Ah Reum) From anecdotal evidence Ive heard that the Archstone is about 30% vouchers. Also unproveable is the number of scattered sites but I believe that its much more dense in Wheaton/Glenmont and Montgomery Village than anywhere else in the County.

  7. That Safeway is worth more to me closed – because I can park in its lot near Metro for free all day instead of paying to park in the garage. I don’t want that generally known, that’s why I’m posting it here. I realize that won’t last forever – the big sign for the new Safeway says ‘coming soon,’ or something like that. But when I see the drawing of the big gleaming building planned to rise up above the new Safeway, I wonder how soon that will be.

    On another topic – Brother’s Chinese (and chicken, seafood, subs) on Amherst has crayfish lo mein. On the menu, it’s lobster lo mein, but there was no lobster in it… just these tiny redish things that looked like miniature lobster tails, smaller than popcorn shrimp, that could only have been crayfish.

    • I use to order from there and Kenny’s near Dunking Donuts. Over the last year, service and food quality has really gone down. The lo mein, overall is just a cheap spaghetti noodle.

      Regarding Indian food and authentic Chinese food…can someone recommend a good Indian and Chinese Restaurant that delivers. I live near Popeyes on Georgia Avenue.

      • There’s plenty more to Wheaton than Brother’s and Kenny’s! Totally agree about the need for a facelift, but that’s not saying we don’t have some really great restaurants in Wheaton if you’d be willing to turn off of Georgia Avenue in either direction. There are tons (well, tens…) reviewed on this very blog!

  8. Thanks Jim! Exactly right.

    Several commenters have recommended Silver Spring’s Ghar-e-Kebab as good Indian that apparently delivers to Wheaton, a theory I have not yet tested. Lots of good Chinese in Wheaton (Full Key, New Kam Fong) and Rockville (Michael’s, Joe’s Noodle House) (to name four) but not sure any of them deliver.

  9. Dave in Wheaton

    As to the zombie Safeway – have patience Eatin’. I too will let out a big sigh of relief when the bulldozers finally show up. But from everything I’ve read it does seem like this is going to happen, and faster than it usually does (even if that doesn’t feel particularly fast).

    I was a bit suspicious of that “structural problem” as a reason for it’s early closing. Maybe I’m a cynic, but I think the Safeway Corp. may have figured it would be easier to sell these big plans to the community if the choice was framed as being between empty-boarded-up-blight vs deeluxe-apartments-in-the-sky.

    On the subject of delivery Indian – can someone confirm that Ghar-e-Kebab delivers all the way up in Wheaton? That would be fantastic! But I’m skeptical considering the place is almost in DC…

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