Folks line up to visit their new city neighbor Groceries: Safeway opened its third Baltimore store yesterday, in Charles Village. The new store was welcomed by most everyone, even people who once opposed it.

April 17, 1997|By Liz Bowie and Jamie Stiehm | Liz Bowie and Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

As part of an aggressive growth strategy, Safeway Inc. opened its third store in Baltimore yesterday, expecting that the higher costs of doing business in the city will be offset by increased sales volume at stores it is opening in urban areas with little competition nearby.

Residents near the new Safeway, at North Charles and 24th streets, welcomed the store both for its roughly 200 jobs and for the foundation that it could provide for a renaissance in the Charles Village neighborhood.

Libby Pennacchia, a voice teacher who lives in the area, said, "We're all banking on that. We're hoping it will really improve the neighborhood, bring a boost to the morale of the businesses around there."

Even those who, fearing "an ocean of asphalt," initially opposed the store said yesterday that they have changed their minds since the design incorporated pieces of the old Chesapeake Cadillac building it replaced, including the signature eagles.

"In the end, I'm very happy Safeway is here," said Larry Principe, a chemistry professor at the Johns Hopkins University. "It's the prettiest grocery store I've ever seen. In fact, I'm going to go shopping there tonight."

When the store opened at 9 a.m. yesterday, a long line of residents was waiting to enter and the parking lot was nearly full. Some customers said they had been driving much farther away to shop, and some elderly people said they were glad to be able to walk to buy groceries.

For years, supermarket chains almost abandoned Baltimore as they opened new stores in suburban shopping centers.

Giant Food Inc., the region's largest grocery store chain with 45 stores in the Baltimore area, has only four stores within the city limits.

Safeway, second to Giant in the Baltimore-Washington area, now has 12 stores in the metropolitan area, three of which are in Baltimore. A fourth will open on Harford Road near Coldspring Lane by the end of the year.

"We are aggressively looking for locations," said Mike Bessire, Safeway's Eastern Division manager.

"We have always done well in the cities," said Tom Mertes, the district manager for Safeway.

Still, some questioned whether there are enough people in the area surrounding the new Safeway to support a 50,000-square-foot store. Unlike the Safeway in Canton and the future Harford Road store, the Charles Street store does not have a clearly defined neighborhood surrounding it.

"It is a very unusual place to build a store," said John Metzger, publisher and editor of Food World, a Columbia-based trade publication. "I couldn't get a clear handle on who will shop there."

But yesterday, residents had already started to make it a gathering place.

"I saw so many friends in there," said 88-year-old Mildred Harper, who with her friends Ophelia Williams, 79, and Irene Thornton, 88, had walked to the Safeway from the Brentwood senior citizen housing complex early yesterday to be at the opening.

The store also will provide jobs. Safeway said it worked with city officials to set up a hiring center before the store opened.

While company officials were vague about how many employees reside in surrounding neighborhoods, they said 170 people who applied through the center were hired.

While starting wages for cashiers are a little more than $6 an hour, the average cashier in the unionized chain makes $11 an hour, including benefits.

St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center development officer Ralph Moore said, "If the community is really going to benefit, it needs to be a source of employment. There is a tremendous need. People are desperate for jobs there."

Jerry Gordon, owner of the recently renovated Eddie's Market on St. Paul Street in Charles Village, said he now hoped to draw more customers from the north. Residents of Tuscany and Guilford like to walk to a store where they are greeted by name and can sit at an outdoor table and chat, Gordon said. "Safeway's a whole other ball game."

Pub Date: 4/17/97

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