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Why Safeway Is Sexy and Social in Washington, D.C.

Why Safeway Is Sexy and Social in Washington, D.C.

It's not too often that a word like sexy fits into a supermarket story — much less a headline — but here's a case in which it's fully warranted.

Safeway's stores in Washington, D.C., are magnets for nicknames from residents. A just-renovated unit in the chic Georgetown neighborhood is known as the “social” Safeway because it's considered a gathering place for locals — even more so now. A downtown unit has been dubbed “sexy” Safeway because people like the way it looks. There's also the “senior” Safeway with a large percentage of older customers, and the “secret” Safeway that's somewhat hidden from the main road (notice all these names begin with the letter “S”).

A few independent websites are dedicated to explaining these nicknames, and one site even held a poll for users to name a particular outlet.

This connection between store and community runs deeper than names. A check of District of Columbia shopping blogs turned up consumer comments that lauded Safeway locations, including this one: “There's a reason this is called the ‘sexy’ Safeway of D.C. I am just in awe of the amount of produce it has.”

In the interest of full disclosure, not all the nicknames or blog posts are flattering. But even the critical comments relay a sense of customer engagement not usually seen in big cities. How is it that a supermarket chain draws this kind of attention in a place that has lots of other activities to keep locals busy?

On the most basic level, Safeway is the dominant player in the district with 16 stores, and many of its longtime employees are well known to residents, so it automatically becomes a big part of peoples' lives. However, Safeway isn't just present in the affluent sections, but is spread around the district, including in underserved neighborhoods, according to Gregory TenEyck, the chain's director of public and government affairs. That kind of local commitment will continue as Safeway is actively looking for new D.C. units, he added.

Safeway's local impact comes into full view with the recent remodel of the social Safeway. The retailer created a special website to update customers on the renovation's progress, and the grand reopening was a big deal for locals. The remodel turned a 48,000-square-foot unit into a 71,000-square-foot lifestyle store. Features include an expansive wine selection; food sampling; a large Starbucks cafe; complimentary WiFi; bars for fresh sushi, gelato and nuts; a chocolate counter; and a large variety of produce that includes some 1,200 items.

The result is that the social Safeway has become even more social. Consider this remark from Frank DiPasquale, executive vice president of National Grocers Association and a longtime observer of the D.C. supermarket scene: “A generation of young consumers we thought would abandon supermarkets are in that Safeway shopping, and they're loving it. That's the neatest part.”

Any retailer that remains this connected to local shoppers has earned its positive labels.

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