Eastport grocery is closing perhaps as early as today Employees blame decision on competition, shoplifting, region's economic slump

November 17, 1997|By Melinda Rice | Melinda Rice,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Business was brisk at Eastport's only grocery store Saturday as customers scavenged the scantily stocked shelves for bargains.

"They're supporting us now that everything is discounted. They didn't before," said Gary Jefferson, co-owner of the Thriftway on Bay Ridge Avenue.

The store is going out of business after a decade in the Eastport Shopping Center. A small, red-bordered sign posted in the store's front window declares that everything in the store is 50 percent off.

Sarah Postlewaite does not usually shop at Thriftway but heard from her daughter that everything had been discounted.

"So of course I came," she said, showing off a pound of sliced ham she got for $3.02 and a bottle of liquid Tylenol cold medicine marked $3.99.

David Nurco said he stopped at the store Saturday to give his regards to the owners and wish them well. He also picked up a handful of dog chew toys for 50 cents each.

"It's a shame. I'm sorry to see it close," he said. "This is basically a corner grocery store that's big. They've got too much competition."

The closest grocery is a Giant supermarket, 1 1/2 miles away at Bay Ridge Avenue and Bay Ridge Drive.

That distance will be a hardship for such people as Gertrude Stukes, who lives behind the Eastport Shopping Center in Watergate Village and does not own a car.

"This has been ideal," said Stukes, who usually walks to Thriftway. If she needs to buy more groceries than she can easily carry back to her apartment, Stukes walks to the store and then takes a taxi home. Sometimes she splits the fare with a friend.

Giant operates a free bus to Watergate Village between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Thursdays, but Eastport residents say that is not practical solution for senior citizens who need a lot of groceries or for people who work during the day.

"I wish they would hurry and put something else in here," said Marie Jones who, like Stukes, lives in Watergate Village. "It's easy for everyone. We don't have to go all the way down to the Giant just to get some milk and bread."

Jefferson said he and his partner, Wilbur Dove, are negotiating to sell the store, but he declined to say to whom or when the new owner would take over.

"Every time we ask they say someone's coming in and buying them out and remodeling," said Sarah Lewallen, a regular customer who stopped at the Thriftway for a gallon of milk Saturday.

Jefferson and Dove bought the store in 1987, after Safeway closed. Business thrived at first, but a statewide economic slump in the early '90s, fierce competition and heavy shoplifting drove the store out of business, employees said.

One of those employees, deli clerk Flo Iverson, 61, has worked at Thriftway for nine years and does not know what she will do when the store closes.

"Once you get to be my age, it's a little hard to find a job," she said. "But I have to work."

Jefferson said he is not sure which day will be the store's last, but employees said they have been told it could be as soon as today.

That decision depends mostly on how fast the remaining merchandise sells.

Saturday, yards of empty shelving flanked by items lingering in each aisle -- a few jars of grape leaves and hamburger relish in Aisle 1, a dozen cans of dog food in Aisle 4, a few packets of two-alarm chili mix in Aisle 10, rapidly browning broccoli and moldy cauliflower in the produce section.

The owners were even selling store equipment.

Martha Bowen and her friend Nene Bosch bought the store's floral cart for Bosh's apartment.

"She's very creative. She'll find something to do with it," Bowen said.

Betsy Gleason showed up at the store Saturday not for bargains, but to say goodbye.

"I didn't come to pick the bones. I just came to see what's happening," said Gleason, a resident of Watergate Village for more than 15 years. "I think it's sad."

Pub Date: 11/17/97

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