several observers, had badly stumbled when it was acquired by
Ahold in the late 1990s. For decades, Giant Food controlled
almost half of the market share in Washington, with Safeway
being a distant second. Giant’s D.C. market share was so high
that in the 1970s the Federal Trade Commission investigated
the chain, seeking to break it up. “They released this hardbound thin book that said in a nice way that Giant is vindicated.
They simply build a better mousetrap,” he says.
At that time, Giant was controlled by Izzy Cohen, “an
extremely sharp merchant,” according to Scher, and son of the
company’s founder. “If Izzy wanted to do something it didn’t
take mass meetings and months and months of research, we just
did it. He had a core of 14 officers and it was like family. They all
had that Giant culture ingrained in them.”
“Izzy used to always say, ‘If a bird breaks its wing, the other
birds will attack it.’ As much as I hate to say it, after Giant was
bought by Ahold, Giant broke its wing,” Scher says, providing
an opening for Harris Teeter, Food Lion and Wegmans to enter
He recounts how at cocktail parties and other events people
would come up to him and ask what went wrong at the com-
pany. “Over the years there have been so many changes in man-
agement at Giant it caused the public to say, ‘What happened to
my Giant?’ That is the way they looked at it.”
Giant has been righting its ship, Scher says, but new competi-
tors were already at the doorstep. “Giant has taken a number of
programs to revitalize the company. They are doing quite well
as far as price image. They have instituted a number of human
resources programs to develop a cadre of people that are strong,
support the company and work in the stores,” he says.
Miller says the chain has relaunched its famous “My Giant”
ad campaign. “It hearkens back to the days in the ‘90s when we
had the slogan ‘ That’s My Giant.’ People were very adamant that
it was their store. Our brand relaunch is ‘My Giant helps me
save money. Saves time. Eat well,’” Miller says.
Giant has also stepped up the remodeling of its stores in the
“As far as new construction, we’ve been more active in the
District than any of our other marketing areas,” Miller says, citing the replacement O Street Market and Cathedral Commons
stores as its two latest projects.
One problem with redeveloping in the city is that there is
generally more community opposition than in the suburbs.
Cathedral Commons, which replaced a 1950s vintage store, was
held up for more than a decade by a small, but very vocal community group.
“We had to come back with several design concepts, but
it was worth it,” Miller says, noting that the original store’s
“Giant Food” neon sign was saved and put on the new building. “It is a mixed use project and they redeveloped the entire
block,” he says.
Decades before the Giant Food Shopping
Center opened its first store at the
corner of George Avenue and Park
Road in Northwest quadrant on Feb. 6,
1936, Washington, D. C. residents were
already shopping for all of their grocery
needs under one roof at the city’s famed
markets—elaborate, cavernous halls
housing stalls from independent vendors
selling produce, meat, fish, eggs, dairy
and dry grocery items.
Four of them still remain in one form
or another and three of them—Eastern
Market, O Street Market and Dean &
Deluca in Georgetown—have been designated by law to always be a market.
Local residents praise the freshness
and variety of the markets’ offerings.
“Every Saturday we start our grocery
shopping at Eastern Market,” says Johnna
French, an attorney and author of a blog
on the Washington D. C. restaurant scene.
“Their selection is just a little broader and
more creative. I discovered turkey chops
there, which are cut like pork chops. You
spend the same amount of money going
there as the grocery stores, but your
ingredients are a whole lot fresher and
in-season because the local farmers sell
there,” she says.
With its one-time Penn Central rail
access, Union Market, just to the east of
Union Station, has been the historic food
hub of Washington for 84 years.
“Union Market is expensive and we
only go over there if we are looking
for something special, like Red Apron
Butchery, which has unique artisanal
meats you are not going to find at a
Safeway,” says French.
Although parts of the 45-acre parcel
are extremely rundown, a massive new
building houses a variety of upscale
shops including food stalls, a butcher,
seafood shop, wine shop and several
dining options. An eight-screen movie
theater and two apartment buildings
are expected to breathe new live into
But the market that underwent the
most extreme makeover is the O Street
Market, which two years ago was reborn
as a Giant Food store, after laying vacant
for a decade.
“Our O Street Market store is like no
other store we’ve ever opened,” says
Jamie Miller, manager, public and com-
munity relations at Giant Food, a division
of Ahold USA based in Landover, Md.
Giant, which used to operate a small
store across the parking lot from O Street
Market, teamed with developer Roadside
Development to incorporate a new
60,000-square-foot store into the old
market. The cavernous wooden cathedral
ceiling was reconstructed and the historic
brickwork repointed. The 15,000-square-
foot former market area—in the back of
the store—now houses Giant’s produce
department, along with deli, service meat
and seafood and a Consumption Bar
where shoppers can purchase glasses of
wine and beer to enjoy while shopping.
The bar has a two per customer limit.
“This store is unique from an architectural standpoint,” Miller says. “I don’t
think we’ll have another opportunity to
do something like this.”