By LAURA SCHUETZ
March 26, 2008
On the corner of Alabama Avenue and Stanton Road SE, a shopping center rises above the townhouses and garden apartments that sprawl in every direction. A Giant supermarket, which opened Dec. 7, is the anchor store. Long-touted as a much needed convenience to Ward 8, the employees of Giant hope to make it something more.
It started with the supermarket’s grand opening – the first supermarket to set up shop in Ward 8 in nine years. There, kids from the newly-built Town Hall Education, Arts, and Recreation Campus in Ward 8 put on a concert in the store’s café area. Giant’s courtesy driver and local musician Jazzy Coleman, who only goes by his stage name, now plays in the store once or twice a week.
Photo by Laura Schuetz.
Jazz musician Jazzy Coleman entertains shoppers at the new Giant supermarket in Ward 8.
Coleman, an Oxon Hill, MD resident, wanted to introduce himself to the community, according to store manager Mark Ortega. Ortega wants the store to be exciting, and looks forward to more events being held in the store. He said the customers really like the new environment the store provides. As many as 20 to 30 people can enjoy the music in the café area – a number Ortega credits to the store’s role as a new meeting place.
Coleman said he plays to inspire residents of the community.
“I want to show other people you can do anything if you try,” Coleman said.
Coleman plays jazz guitar over his own pre-recorded backing music in his sets, but also likes to play gospel and old classics for the store’s customers, who show their approval with foot-tapping and enthusiastic murmurs.
Giant customer and Jazzy Coleman fan Greg Deadwyle, who works in Congress Heights, sees the store as a big improvement for the neighborhood. Some shoppers are more skeptical. Harris Brent, a Maryland resident, sees the store not as an asset, but as a convenience.
“Why would you have a Mercedes dealership in this neighborhood? They aren’t giving anything away,” Brent said.
The store has branched out to include more community work activities in Congress Heights as well as in some of the poorest neighborhoods surrounding Washington, DC. Giant donates its day-old bread to a local homeless shelter run by the Church of Philadelphia. The Jobs Coalition, a neighborhood organization, will also be holding its meetings in the store.
Frozen food manager Vance Gloster, who lived in the Congress Heights neighborhood in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, said the changes associated with Giant were a long-time coming.
“When I was growing up, we didn’t have a Boys and Girls Club,” Gloster said. “We were playing football in the streets back then.”
Ortega, who lives about 50 miles away from the store in Calvert County, Md., has worked for Giant for two and a half years, and this is his third store. His time at the store has been both “exciting and rewarding” and a learning experience, Ortega said. Giant hires its employees from the local community, and Ortega personally works with and trains every individual.
“You become a little more personally attached,” he said.
Ortega will be working as a marriage counselor for the Family Matters Empowerment Center in the neighborhood—something he feels quite passionately about.
“I used to think, ‘Why am I coming here?’” Ortega said. “I know why I’m here now.”