It’s a common narrative in city life: A name-brand grocery store or restaurant chain moves into the neighborhood and displaces the mom-and-pop shops that have run their businesses for years.
So with the announced addition of Trader Joe’s arriving in Capitol Hill come summer 2017—at 750 Pennsylvania Ave. SE—you’d think the vendors of nearby Eastern Market would be in an uproar. But some of them actually seem to be excited about the arrival, saying it will boost foot traffic to the market and ultimately their bottom lines: TJ’s isn’t a threat; it’s a benevolent force.
“I think in general that our business model is totally different from theirs,” says Mike Bowers, the owner of Bowers Fancy Dairy Products. “Most of our customers will come shop with us.”
Bowers adds that many of the vendors were anticipating a grocery store in the future building, a redevelopment of the formerly vacant Hine Junior High School that is expected to feature 150-plus residential units, over 200,000 square feet of office and retail space, and underground parking. Given the number of new people it will bring to the area, Bowers, a third-generation owner of his family’s cheese shop, says he’s “pretty optimistic” and likely won’t have to adapt business much.
“There’s always competitive challenges, but we’re going to keep doing what we’ve always done and sell some really great products,” he explains, citing a selection of nearly 400 cheeses, such as Maryland chèvres, New York cheddars, and French gruyères. “Being in a public market, my line of products is somewhat eclectic and diverse. We try to appeal to a broad socioeconomic group of people, what they can afford.” (Prices for Bowers’ cheeses range from $6.99 to $40 a pound.)
There’s already a Harris Teeter grocery store about a mile away from Eastern Market, at 1350 Potomac Ave. SE, as well as a Safeway, at 415 14th Street SE—both just one Metro stop away. Bill Glasgow, who runs Union Meats in the market’s North Hall, says when the Harris Teeter opened, his sales initially dipped three or four percent, but then increased by the same amount— a fact he attributes to neighborhood excitement and the grocery store’s food giveaways.
Glasgow adds that the development will bring in customers who want “some of the higher-end stuff,” including prime rib, angus-aged beef, buffalo, elk, and veal—products he gets from as far away as Canada and South Dakota. “I can just beat them at their game,” Glasgow says. “The parking is a plus, especially on the weekend.” His family has run Union Meats since 1946.
Once completed, the site will host the first Trader Joe’s outside of Northwest D.C. (Two already exist in that quadrant: one in Foggy Bottom, the other near U Street). Joe Snyder, a local artist who exhibits on 7th Street SE, says he’s still ambivalent about the store’s opening.
“It is my hope that the community will continue to support the small, family-owned businesses inside the market, and that they will be able to adapt,” he says. “The market as a totality is a very synergetic unit: So what affects them on the inside affects me in some way or another. We are tied to that kind of mothership, and the health of the mothership always gives me some pause.”
The Trader Joe’s in Capitol Hill will measure 11,000 square feet.
Photo by Mike Mozart via Flickr Creative Commons