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Over the past few months, the residents of Ward 8’s Bellevue neighborhood lost both Good Food Markets and Curbside Groceries food trucks as viable sources of fresh produce within walking distance of their homes.
However, they may soon again have a neighborhood grocery store at 4001 South Capitol Street SW.
According to those familiar with the situation, how soon depends on how quickly Michaels Development Company, the owner of 4001 South Capitol Street SW settles a legal matter with Good Food Markets.
During a recent ANC 8D meeting, ANC Commissioner Jacqueline Kinlow (8D01) recounted her conversation with Mario Molano, regional vice president of Michaels Development. She said that Michaels Development won’t consider any new bids for a fresh food grocer until Good Food Markets pays a utility bill of $21,000.
In her commissioner report, Kinlow also mentioned Michaels Development changing the locks to 4001 South Capitol Street SW upon finding someone producing a podcast in the empty space earlier this year.
In the weeks leading up to the April 27 ANC meeting, the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) had been in the midst of finalizing a deal between Michaels Development and a new fresh food grocer, whose identity has yet to be revealed.
Last week, Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8) confirmed to The Informer that, since March, the search had been narrowed down from three bidders to one.
Around that time, Michaels Development had been in discussions with Phil Sambol, the owner of Good Food Markets, about completing Good Food Markets’ transition out of 4001 South Capitol Street SW. Meanwhile, Market Fresh Gourmet, a Black-owned fresh food retailer with locations in Baltimore and Prince George’s County, had also been vying for the space.
Kinlow said that conversations with Lenny Knight, co-owner of Market Fresh Gourmet, revealed that Knight and his colleagues had been making attempts to contact Michaels Development with little success.
In expressing her interest in bringing Market Fresh Gourmet to Bellevue, Kinlow said that the mystery around the transition of tenancy at 4001 South Capitol Street SW has perturbed her constituents and residents of other single-member districts in ANC 8D.
“People in my neighborhood have an interest in buying food and seeing a full-fledged grocery store,” Kinlow said. “We want an operating grocery store, however big or small. It’s unclear about the food trucks so that doesn’t leave the residents with a lot of confidence. There was a lot of fanfare with the opening and now you leave us hanging.”
Neither Good Food Markets nor Christopher Earley, regional vice president of Michaels Development, responded to The Informer’s request for comment.
In the fall of 2021, Good Food Markets opened on South Capitol Street in Southwest, near Atlantic Street, during an event that attracted more than 100 people. An $880,000 grant to South Capitol Improvement, LLC from the Neighborhood Prosperity Fund supported the launch of Good Food Markets. Those funds also brought forth a 225,000-square-foot development that included Community of Hope primary care clinic, office space leased to D.C. Department of Human Services and 190 affordable and supportive housing units.
Good Food Markets counted among various efforts made by the Bowser administration to increase fresh food access east of the Anacostia River.
Through the Food Access Fund, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) has dedicated nearly half of the $73 million invested to food businesses east of the Anacostia River. Other mechanisms to increase fresh food access in Wards 7 and 8 include grants, tax credits, low-cost loans, regulatory incentives, and a Grocery Store 25 Percent Class A License program through the Alcohol Beverage and Cannabis Administration.
Officials said they anticipate having 70,000 more residents in Wards 7 and 8 living within walking distance of a healthy food source through the launch and expansion of local food businesses. However, Bellevue residents said they haven’t experienced the fruits of such labor. A little over a year after Good Food Markets’ grandiose opening, the fresh food grocer stopped serving fresh produce.
A DMPED spokesperson said that Good Food Markets made the decision to shut down its Bellevue and Ward 5 locations in response to the pandemic. Before doing so, Good Foods Market utilized Nourish DC, a program DMPED offers local businesses to help them to navigate challenges.
Last December, DMPED reached out to Capital Area Food Bank to bring the Curbside Groceries food truck to 4001 South Capitol Street SW.
For a couple of months, the mobile grocery operated near the building on Wednesday evenings, Thursday mornings and afternoons, and Saturday afternoons. That arrangement ended within a couple of months once Capital Area Food Bank learned, via text from their contact at Good Food Markets, that Michaels Development didn’t want Curbside Groceries near 4001 South Capitol Street NW.
Radha Muthiah, president and CEO of Capital Area Food Bank, told The Informer that Michaels Development gave no prior warning, nor any suggestions of alternate sites near 4001 South Capitol Street SW for Curbside Groceries to set up shop.
Since early February, when Curbside Groceries left 4001 South Capitol Street SW, Capital Area Food Bank has been in talks with DMPED about securing a permit that would allow the mobile grocer to operate near the building.
Capital Area Food Bank recently told The Informer that they’ve since followed up with the D.C. Department of Transportation about applying for a public space permit.
“We consistently had individuals who were coming for food [and] realized with our curbside location, we needed to be there consistently so people could rely on our services,” Muthiah said. “It was less about having a number of people, but we knew that people going to Good Food Markets wanted an alternative. Toward the end, we were starting to see people that people knew we would be there.”