Ward 7 Council member Vincent Gray talks with a Safeway employee during a surprise inspection of the store in Southeast on Aug. 17. (Lateef Mangum/The Washington Informer)
Ward 7 Council member Vincent Gray talks with a Safeway employee during a surprise inspection of the store in Southeast on Aug. 17. (Lateef Mangum/The Washington Informer)

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D.C. Council member Vincent C. Gray, chairman of the council’s Committee on Health, conducted unannounced site visits and inspections at the two Safeway grocery stores in Ward 7 on Thursday.

Gray said the stores have received numerous customer complaints including poor sanitation, expired “Sell By/Use By” dates on product labels including meat, dairy, canned goods, deficient merchandise inventory and selection, excessively long checkout lines, empty shelves, reduced store hours without notification to the community and other issues.

“Ward 7 is a grocery, health care and retail desert and the existing grocery stores serving this community provide unacceptable substandard products and services, thereby holding low-income residents without transportation options hostage,” Gray said.

The council member announced that he’s introduced legislation to bring more grocery stores into Ward 7 and the East End, but in the meantime, he said Safeway must address and correct these substandard conditions.

In April, Gray met with Safeway Eastern Region executive management including operations, marketing, community relations, human resources.

He requested an action plan and timetable to address customer complaints.

Safeway management said they planned to upgrade service after community frustrations were raised in March regarding the chain’s two Ward 7 stores; however, Gray said he continues to receive emails, calls and social media posts on customer gripes and has not been satisfied with the action plan outcomes and timetable.

A Safeway spokesperson declined to comment.

“The Benning Road Safeway and the Good Hope at Alabama Avenue are the two Safeway stores that Councilman Gray wanted to see for himself because some of the concerns that constituents and residents have been raising on social media, in emails and in meetings with him at these stores have been anywhere from poor sanitation, expired produce meat and dairy and other problems,” said Janis Hazel, Gray’s director of communications.

Hazel also lives in Ward 7 and serves as commissioner of the 7D Advisory Neighborhood Commission.

“Council member Gray had been out of the country and just got back on Wednesday, a day before the surprise inspections, and people had been calling and he said, ‘let’s go out there ourselves,’” Hazel said. “We met with Safeway back in April and asked for an action plan and we’re not pleased with it. We’ve gotten tweets of empty shelves and the Benning Road store recently reduced its hours, closing earlier than any other store in the District.”

The reduction in hours arrived with little-to-no notice, Gray said.

Hazel noted that during the inspections, Gray’s team would live tweet to provide District residents and others a firsthand look at the situation. Although she lives nearby, Hazel said she hasn’t been to her local Safeway in 11 years.

“I refuse to go to my Safeway, which is the Benning Road store. I haven’t been there,” she said. “I’ve lived in D.C. for 32 years and I have not been in that store because of poor sanitation, the floors are sticky and the meat and produce are rotten and it’s just horrible.

“It’s not the experience I got when I lived on Capitol Hill and it’s not the experience you get in Southwest,” she said.

Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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