The recent announcement that Safeway will close their store in Bryans Road came as a surprise – a very bad surprise, to be sure. There was no hint or warning, just some social media buzz over the weekend that we – the economic development department – set about to confirm first thing Monday morning.
“Like all retailers, we are constantly evaluating our store portfolio and look at every angle of the business,” wrote Senior Manager, Community and Public Affairs, Safeway Eastern Division, Beth Goldberg in an email to us. “This includes our real estate. Closing a store is always a tough decision, but we sometimes have to make those decisions so we can invest appropriately in our areas of our business.” Goldberg confirmed that the store would cease operations on May 26 and that employees would have the opportunity to relocate to other Safeway stores.
While researching Safeway’s decision, we also learned that the company recently closed a store in Bethesda, and a Safeway in Frederick will close in May. Another store official explained all three closings more succinctly. They were “underperforming.” In other words, it was a business decision.
While this comes as bad news to the community, it doesn’t leave residents without a grocery store. A representative at the Food Lion in Bryans Road tells us that the store is hiring additional staff and ensuring that their shelves are fully stocked to meet the additional demand that will be generated from the loss of the Safeway.
There has been speculation that Safeway’s departure from Bryans Road was tied to crime – specifically theft and shoplifting. But it’s important to underscore that this is only gossip with no corroboration from Safeway, who maintains that it was strictly a business decision. Sadly, such unsubstantiated rhetoric adds to the damage, since it hurts the image of our community and weakens our efforts to backfill that space with another grocer or retailer.
And we are indeed focusing on that effort. In May, an economic development department team will attend this years International Council of Shopping Centers national convention in collaboration with our local real estate and retail community. We will work diligently, side-by-side with shopping center owners to assist them with their recruitment efforts at this very important conference. Our goal, as always, is to support all the retail centers in the county and provide them with the resources to attract the quality stores our residents want and deserve.
But it’s not going to be easy. Retail in general is struggling as online competition forces brick and mortar business to adjust to the digital age. Nationally, regionally, and locally, we have seen many former retail giants close or downsize. Further, the population numbers in and near Bryans Road are well below the criteria for many – most – retail models. So finding the right retailer – hopefully grocer – to take over the space that Safeway will abandon is going to be an uphill battle.
But we are not working in isolation. It’s a team effort, and the Charles County economic development department stands ready to work with developers, shopping center owners, other members of the business community, county staff, and elected officials at the local and state level to turn this around.
In the spirit of collaboration, we will work together to attract and retain the types of businesses that will create jobs, provide opportunity, and serve the needs of Bryans Road and the county as a whole.