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Safeway, it’s fair to say, has taken the grocery store grand opening to a whole new level. The rollout of Georgetown’s Social Safeway involved “non-transferrable” invitations months in advance, hard hat tours for local figures, and of course, the star-studded gala last week that saw the socialite class walking through the aisles in ballgowns. It’s quite a marketing feat to convince a critical mass of upper-crusties that it won’t be embarrassing to treat a grocery store as if it were the Academy Awards. Safeway just capitalized on the fact that Georgetowners are suckers for exclusivity.
But Safeway wasn’t the first to play on a neighborhood’s sense of self for a ribbon-cutting. Remember ten years ago, when Whole Foods—then Fresh Fields—opened on P Street? It was the result of a years-long marketing effort by community leaders, and symbolized the revitalization of an area previously known for drugs and prostitution. The grand opening evening threw open the space to all comers, and involved 12 Elvis impersonators, complimentary champagne glasses etched with the Fresh Fields logo, and opulent hors d’oevres. The company pulled out the stops, because it knew that the new store wasn’t just a place to get food: It was the fulfillment of a neighborhood’s dream.
The newest Whole Foods, up in Friendship Heights, isn’t quite going that far. Lead-up events include coffee and salad samplings in advance of the May 18th opening, and a contest for the bread recipe that will be featured at the “bread-breaking ceremony” the morning of. They have an active Facebook page with mini-profiles of store workers. As Urbanturf notes, it may bring more life to a shopping district with a condo glut—which highlights the fact that there’s not much of a neighborhood personality to play off of for the purposes of a grand opening. There’s even a full-service grocery store right nearby already.
So, it’ll be interesting to see how the next neighborhood-destination grocery store—the forthcoming Yes! Organic Market in Fairlawn—decides to debut. This means a real step up in what’s available to Southeast residents, and may be just the bump that higher-income people need to purchase homes in a place with great real estate deals but a terrible residential reputation. There should be a party to match.