Thursday, October 13, 2011


The big day is here! After a demolition of our venerable 1956 Safeway, and the construction of the new, two-times-bigger supermarket, the doors will open to the public at last.

At 7:45 AM, Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett and Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot will participate in a ribbon cutting ceremony. 15 minutes later, the store will open for shopping. Then, from 4-8 PM, the store will host a Preview Party. Lucky downtown Bethesda residents who received a special coupon in the mail can take another 10%-off Club Card prices during the preview party!!

But even before that, Safeway held an invite-only "soiree" last evening from 6:30-8:30. I was invited, and of course I brought my camera and have the full story for you! Video coming soon!

It was a dark and stormy night...

But searchlights cut through the gloom over downtown Bethesda, leading an assortment of VIPs to the corner of Arlington Road and Bradley Boulevard.

A new driveway entrance led into the ground-level garage, where valet parking awaited. Then it was time to walk the red carpet(!!) into a small lobby area. One of two jazz trios performed as guests checked in at a table just inside the automatic doors. Some people may think I'm exaggerating when I say it was "invite-only;" in fact, those who were not on the list were turned away.

So no exaggeration here, this was an exclusive event. And, much like Vapiano and the Parva before it, this Safeway knows how to put on a Grand Opening. You know, as opposed to those places that just shrug their shoulders and quietly open, believing they will be successful without any publicity or marketing in the local community.

From the lobby, you have the option of the elevators or staircase to reach the actual store level. Like all health-conscious Bethesda residents, I approached the stairs.

But a coat check officer appeared to my left and exchanged my umbrella for a ticket. This saved me from lugging it all over the store. I told you this was a swanky event!

Climbing the stairs, I was greeted by a mime and two Safeway officials. At the top of the stairs, I met the store manager. I explained I was a lifelong resident of Bethesda, and he was surprised to hear that trains used to pass by on the trestle over Bradley Blvd., now used for the Capital Crescent Trail. (In fact, there's a great photo online from before my time, which shows a train crossing, and in the background you can see the Safeway sign! They should add that to the artwork inside the store.)

Speaking of artwork, in one of the most architecturally-interesting areas at the front corner of the store, many artworks were displayed in a silent auction to raise money for the cause of the night: breast cancer.

"The Art of Safeway" theme included an impressive painting of the new store by a local artist, entitled, "Our Neighborhood Safeway." One lucky bidder went home with the original.

Okay, enough about the art, you say, tell me about the food.

Well, the first stop for most was one of the generously-provided open bars (but due to Montgomery County liquor laws, this was the only night you will find booze at Safeway). One popular drink, especially among the ladies, was the Artini. Pomegranate juice was involved in some fashion. Champagne? Check. Wine? Check.

I've been to one other Safeway grand opening, and that was in Damascus. The Bethesda event was different in that there were many spreads of food throughout the store in addition to the usual sample handed out on trays. So this was an all-you-can-eat affair.

Rancher's Reserve steak was popular, as was the shrimp cocktail. Speaking of cocktails, the deftly-arranged Vegtini was a big hit in the produce section. And how about that picture-perfect produce, symmetrically aligned apples, oranges and much more. How many hours that will last today with customers picking at it is anybody's guess...

Cheese? Plenty of it. And an olive bar! I like different kinds of olives.

Chef Huda of TV fame was there in person, serving a special pasta dish she created for the event. On another TV note, WUSA9's Andrea Roane was the mistress of ceremonies, and noted her personal commitment to finding a cure for breast cancer.

Other notables in the crowd? I spotted former Rockville Mayor Rose Krasnow, former District 17 Delegate Cheryl Kagan and Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Chief Richie Bowers. Also, Miss Alexandria 2011 Delesia Watson and Chef Donnell Long of the Old Towne Inn in Upper Marlboro.

Steve Neibergall, President of Safeway's Eastern Division gave a speech, and presented Roane with one of the art pieces made from relics of the old store.

Another such use was of glass from the old store in special, stained-glass-like exterior windows. And get this- some even light up and change color at night!

Other notables: the Halloween cakes in the bakery - amazing! Check them out. I haven't seen anything like these since the 3-D Spider cake at the Weis Markets in Damascus last October.

You're also going to find your Starbucks where you expect it. Self checkout is available.

One thing for future consideration is, shouldn't Bethesda UP think about extending Bethesda Circulator service down to the new Safeway? Just a thought.

Finally, as attendees exited to a jazz rendition of "Over the Rainbow," they received one final surprise: a hefty, jam-packed collectible Art of Safeway swag bag. I'll have that on video for you, too. There's even a loaf of Artisan bread in there.

Certainly in the spirit of generosity, and welcoming of the neighborhood, by Safeway that permeated the evening.

I thank Safeway for inviting me, and encourage you to try out our new neighborhood Safeway. Feel free to comment on your experience with the new store here, and have a great opening day at Safeway!

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