News & Politics

A Night Out: Social Safeway Grand Re-Opening

We thought we’d seen it all. And then we went to a gala in a grocery store.

Look closely for the red carpet and valet parking. All photographs by Chris Svetlik.

Ball gowns and bow ties were spotted all over sleepy Glover Park last night. In a neighborhood of Late Night Shot-ers (Shooters?) and preppy young professionals, one might easily assume that the dressed-to-impress crowd was on its way to yet another charity event. Were women donning cocktail dresses in the name of homeless animals? Getting their hair blown out to help find a cure for a big, scary disease? No, not this time—this crowd was celebrating the return of a beloved grocery store.

Because it’s not officially a party without ice sculptures.

Before it was torn down last April, the Safeway store at 1855 Wisconsin Avenue, Northwest, was an indispensable neighborhood establishment. Twentysomethings met and mingled over the salad bar—hence the “social” in its nickname—and broke Georgetown University students living in the Burleith neighborhood perused the aisles for discount meal options. As one such student, this author begrudgingly spent the past year shelling out too much money at more expensive stores in the neighborhood. So when the invite came for the grand reopening of the only major convenience of her senior-year-housing option, you can bet she jumped at the chance to attend.

The party, in all of its slightly ridiculous glory, was a surprisingly good time. We went in ready to poke fun and came out remembering why we loved the store so much in the first place. No matter where guests found themselves in the 71,067-square-foot space, they were never less than five feet away from a wine, Champagne, or martini flute. There were also lots of food samples—too many to count—including sushi bites, frozen pizza, and mini gelato cones. WJLA anchor Leon Harris emceed the ceremony, which included remarks by DC delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and Safeway CEO Steve Burd, socialite blogger and former Miss DC Kate Michael happily snapped pictures, and Assistant White House chef Sam Kass was rumored to be milling about the crowd . Although guests couldn’t shop last night—the store officially opens to shoppers today—Ward 2 council member Jack Evans was granted an exception: In the ceremonial first purchase, he bought, among other things, three yogurt cups. Exciting, we know.

Cheesy? In more ways than one. But we still had a good time.

Interestingly, DC mayor Adrian Fenty didn’t attend. While he sent a congratulatory letter that was read aloud, Hizzoner instead made an appearance at a swanky rooftop pool party to mark the grand opening of WestEnd 25, a new set of luxury apartments at M and 25th streets, Northwest. Perhaps he felt pressure to make nice with local real-estate developers—he’s in the middle of a reelection campaign, after all.

Does the new Social Safeway deserve all the hullabaloo? Actually, yes. The new store, open 24 hours a day, is twice as large as the old version, the fourth-largest store Safeway has ever built. It has the largest produce selection in the city, a sushi bar, a gelato counter, and a refrigerated wine room. The in-store Starbucks has wifi and a fireplace lounge (we’re not joking), and it’s open later than any other Starbucks in Georgetown—until midnight seven nights a week. We think the sleep-deprived college kids living in the area will appreciate that.

“It’s rare that a grocery store creates this kind of excitement,” said Craig Muckle, a Safeway public-relations associate, before CEO Burd commenced his Champage toast to the store. Now there’s a statement we can drink to.

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Sarah is the Editor-in-Chief of Washingtonian Bride & Groom, and writes about weddings, fashion, and shopping. Her work has also appeared in Refinery29, Bethesda Magazine, and Washington City Paper, among others. She is a Georgetown University graduate, lives in Columbia Heights, and you can find her on Instagram at @washbridegroom and @sarahzlot.