News

From Piggly Wiggly To Wegman’s: How DC Grocery Shopping Got Cool

Things were pretty different in the early 1800s.

1998: Giant Food is acquired by Ahold (now Ahold Delhaize), a Dutch conglomerate. Photograph by Alamy.

To read more about how grocery stores have shaped Washington, click here.

When the organization Historic Takoma bought an old building said to have started life in 1932 as a Piggly Wiggly grocery store, Diana Kohn, the group’s president, started researching the structure—and became an expert on the area’s grocery history. With her help, we put together this timeline of Washington grocers.

Photograph by Lewis W. Hine/Buyenlarge/Getty Images.
Photograph by Lewis W. Hine/Buyenlarge/Getty Images.

1801

Center Market opens at Pennsylvania Avenue and Seventh Street, Northwest. In 1931, it—with its 666 vendor stalls—is demolished to make way for the National Archives.

Photograph courtesy of Library of Congress.

1873

Eastern Market opens in Southeast DC.

Photograph courtesy of Library of Congress.

1875

Commodore John Magruder opens Magruder’s, aiming to sell imported goods to foreign dignitaries and the well-to-do.

Photograph courtesy of Library of Congress.

1909

John Letts, a Bethesda businessmen, opens Sanitary Grocery.

Photograph courtesy of Library of Congress.

1921

A dozen small grocers form District Grocers Association, a cooperative grocery chain. At its height, there are 300 stores.

Photograph courtesy of Library of Congress.

1923

A&P operates 198 Washington-area stores. By 2016, all will have closed.

Photograph by George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images.

1927

John Letts retires from Sanitary, but not before buying local Piggly Wiggly stores, bringing his store total to 362.

Photograph courtesy of Library of Congress.

1928

Safeway acquires Sanitary Grocery, securing a presence on the East Coast and in DC. Sanitary retains its name until 1941.

Photograph courtesy of Library of Congress.

1932

The Montgomery Farm Women’s Cooperative Market opens in Bethesda to sell fruits, vegetables, homemade preserves, and baked goods.

Photograph courtesy of Library of Congress.

1936

Giant opens DC’s first “supermarket,” on Georgia Avenue. Its high-volume model eventually brings food prices down by 35 percent across the area.

Photograph courtesy of Library of Congress.

1946

Louis Snider opens an independent grocery store, Snider’s, in the same Silver Spring location where it remains today.

Photograph courtesy of Library of Congress.

1951

A&P and Safeway follow customers to the suburbs to compete with Giant, adding such features as mechanized checkouts and open display cases for meat and frozen foods.

Photograph by Rodman’s Twitter.

1955

The Rodman family opens a corner drugstore discounting national brands. Rodman’s evolves into an international marketplace.

Photograph courtesy of Library of Congress.

1972

Unable to compete with supermarkets and still reeling from the destruction of neighborhoods after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., the DGS cooperative dissolves.

Photograph via Wikimedia Commons.

1986

Costco opens its first area discount warehouse, in Fairfax.

Photograph via Wikimedia Commons.

1987

Scott Nash starts MOM’s Organic Market as a food delivery business out of his mother’s Beltsville garage.

Photograph courtesy of Fresh Fields Fans and Alumni Facebook Page.

1991

Fresh Fields opens in Rockville, offering natural organic foods. In 1996, it becomes part of Whole Foods.

Photograph by Alamy.

1992

Whole Foods opens in this area after acquiring Bread & Circus stores in Arlington and Georgetown.

Photograph by Alamy.

1992

Dean & DeLuca opens its first area store, in Georgetown.

Photograph by Alamy.

1998

Trader Joe’s comes to Washington. The chain reportedly generates the most revenue per square foot of any US grocery retailer.

Photograph by Alamy.

1998

Giant Food is acquired by Ahold (now Ahold Delhaize), a Dutch conglomerate.

Photograph by Alamy.

1998

Aldi opens its first area store, in Langley Park.

Photograph via Wikimedia Commons.

2004

Wegmans comes to the area, opening in Dulles.

Photograph courtesy of Whole Foods.

2012

In an upscaling of the grocery experience, the Tenleytown Whole Foods puts in a beer-growler station and a “sip and shop” policy.

Photograph by Margaret Lefton.

2013

On the eve of Earth Day, Glen’s Garden Market opens its first area store, near Dupont Circle, to sell food from small local producers.

Photograph via Wikimedia Commons.

2013

Walmart opens its first two stores in Washington.

Photograph by Alamy.

2016

In a nod to increasing eco-consciousness and customer interests, MOM’s starts selling tools for back-yard beekeeping.

Photograph via Wikimedia Commons.

2017

The German company Lidl opens its first area store, in Manassas.

Photograph via Wikimedia Commons.

2018

Earth Fare, a natural-and-organic-food retailer founded in Asheville, North Carolina, in 1975, opens its first area store, in Fairfax.

This article appeared in the March 2018 issue of Washingtonian.