Toni Harris drove a few miles away from her home in Capitol Heights to purchase produce at Good Food Markets and Café in nearby Seat Pleasant.
The nearly 4,000-square-foot storefront at Addison Plaza fills an empty hole left in the Central Avenue shopping center when a Safeway food store closed more than four years ago.
Harris said two of the closest grocery stores – Giant in Largo and Shoppers in Forestville – are several miles away. Enter Good Foods Markets with their latest outlet in the region joining a store on Rhode Island Avenue NE. Another is planned for Ward 8 in southwest D.C.
“It’s good to have stores like this in the community where seniors can come…that’s close by and they can walk to,” she said Saturday, Oct. 2 at the store’s grand opening. “I like to compare food from different stores when I come out to shop. The corn was 50 cents. That’s affordable.”
Besides Seat Pleasant not having a grocery store in the city for several years, it’s also considered a food desert with limited to no resources for healthy food choices. That designation represents about 15 percent of Prince George’s County.
It doesn’t help that the county houses about 136 liquor stores and 92 grocery stores, said Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks. She said 50 percent of fast-food restaurants are inside the Capital Beltway.
“This is unconscionable,” said Alsobrooks, who attributed the lack of grocers to years of food inequity. “To reach our greatest potential, we must do so when we’re healthy. Prince Georgians should not have to travel long distances to get healthy food.”
One way to address food inequity and attract grocery stores may come through state policy.
Del. Jazz Lewis (D-District 24) of Glenarden will again push for legislation to allow grocery stores that open in locations considered food deserts in Prince George’s to sell beer and wine.
The legislation that stalled in this year’s Maryland General Assembly sought to allow those grocers to sell beer and “light wine,” but no more than three supermarkets could achieve a class A license within a legislative district.
“When we talk about health care, food is the core part of that,” he said. “If you don’t have access to healthy food, then what are you eating? You’re eating fast-food stuff that is detrimental to your health.”
Philip Sambol, executive director of Oasis Community Partners which runs Good Food Markets and helped open it in Seat Pleasant, said the store will be a “neighborhood market.”
Customers can buy broccoli, butternut squash, seedless grapes and organic juices.
A small café offers a variety of salads including arugula, Mediterranean and kale. Hot entrees with side dishes include butter chicken, adobo beef stew, white rice, black beans and macaroni and cheese.
Discounts are available for seniors and residents registered with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which received a 25 percent increase in benefits from the Biden administration.
The market will host activities and events with community groups to promote healthy lifestyles.
A “good neighbors” program allows residents to earn points and receive discounts on various products. There are three prerequisites: anyone unable to afford food in the past six months, those with a total household income of $36,000 or less and for any resident legally disabled.
Once Good Food Markets opens a third store in the D.C. region next month across the Maryland border in the Ward 8 neighborhood in southwest D.C., all 15 employees in the Prince George’s store will also be county residents.
The Ward 5 store in Northeast consists of employees who reside in the District. That’s also the plan at the Ward 8 location with a goal to hire residents from that neighborhood.
“Hiring locally is a big benefit to the business because you know your customers and know what they’re looking for and you can talk to them,” Sambol said. “We [are] big enough to hold everything, but not too big…that the operating costs become more than the small store can bear. It’s finding that balance.”