Joanne Benson1

Maryland State Sen. Joanne Benson is upset that the Safeway in Seat Pleasant will close in July. (Courtesy Photo)

Two Safeway grocery stores in Maryland will close on July 2 resulting in the loss of 164 jobs, according to Work Adjustment and Retraining Notices (WARN) on the Maryland Department of Labor website. One is in Rockville and the other is in the Addison Plaza Shopping Center in Seat Pleasant Residents of the city and surrounding areas aren’t happy about it.

Maryland State Sen. Joanne Benson (D-District 24) is leader of the 202 Coalition, an organization of residents in central Prince George’s County areas including Seat Pleasant, Capitol Heights, Fairmount Heights, Peeper Mill Village. Benson invited representatives of Safeway, Prince George’s County economic development specialists, and elected officials to a June 20 meeting at St. Margaret’s Catholic Church to explain to coalition members why the Safeway is being closed and why residents weren’t informed ahead of time.

“There is no grocery store from the District line on Central Avenue to 495,” Benson said to the 135 residents at the meeting. “We have seniors who use pushcarts to go to that Safeway in Addison Plaza to shop. We are really angry because we didn’t receive notice about the closing of the Safeway and that is disrespectful. Safeway would not have done that to Bowie, or Greenbelt, or Laurel, or Fort Washington and they can’t do it here.”

Addison Plaza is owned by Horning Brothers, a development company based in the District with projects throughout Maryland and in the city. Addison Plaza opened in 1984 with the Safeway and other outlets including Popeye’s Chicken and Dominos, as well as liquor stores and nail shops.

Seat Pleasant is located in the westernmost portion of Prince George’s County that borders far northeast of the District. It has a population of 4,542 people according to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau and is 91 percent Black. The shuttering of the Safeway would, by definition, make Seat Pleasant a food desert, which is an urban area where it is difficult to buy affordable and good-quality fresh food.

Benson wasn’t the only elected official upset about the departure. “Safeway has closed stores in Largo, Suitland, District Heights, and Iverson Mall,” Prince George’s County Council member Karen Toles (D-District 7), said. “I didn’t know about this until Sen. Benson called me about it. The county executive’s office didn’t even know about this.”

Stacey J. Brown, vice president of labor relations and employment law for Safeway Eastern, said at the meeting. “We didn’t announce the closing of the Seat Pleasant store any different from the way we have done the others,” Brown said. “We wanted to make sure that our employees knew because we have a union contract that stipulates how a store closing announcement should be handled. We also wanted to close the store because it has been losing money for eight years.”

Brown said that in 2015, the Seat Pleasant store lost $1 million. “It’s hard to keep that store open when it is not earning money and when we tried to re-negotiate a lease that was favorable to our terms with the owners of Addison Plaza, they wouldn’t work with us on that,” she said.

Belinda Queen-Howard, a political and civic activist who lives in Wilbur Estates, an unincorporated community near Seat Pleasant, said Safeway could have used the store as a tax write-off and said, “if the store was properly managed, more people would have used it.”

“That store needed love and care from its company,” she said.

David Iannuci is an economic development specialist with the Prince George’s County government. Iannuci said County Executive Rushern Baker III and his administration is aware of the shuttering of the store and will attempt to get the Horning Brothers to bring a comparable grocery store to the site.

Seat Pleasant Mayor Eugene Grant responded to an email inquiry from the AFRO on the controversy. He said that residents aren’t the only ones feeling the negative effect of the store’s shuttering. “The departure of Safeway also means the loss of jobs for some of our residents who worked at the store and our tax base will lose over $140,000 in personal property taxes they paid annually to our city not to include the business license and social benefits,” he said.

However, the mayor said that his city’s government is taking steps to address the store’s shuttering. “The city is arranging a bus shuttle for our senior citizens and handicap residents to take them to local grocery stores to shop as a temporary measure to assist those in need,” he said. “Our long term plan is to work on a new development that will bring in a new grocery store in the future.”