A new Amazon grocery store coming to Dupont Circle will be at least the second in D.C., and the latest to open in an affluent neighborhood in the Washington Metro area. According to public documents, despite a grocery gap and rampant food insecurity in Wards 7 and 8, Amazon has no clear plans to bring any grocery stores to areas in need.
Amazon Fresh already has several store locations across the country. In D.C. and neighboring areas of Maryland and Virginia, nearly ten stores are already open, with at least five more planned including the Dupont Circle location.
According to signs and logos on the as-yet unopened storefront at 1350 Connecticut Ave NW, the new Ward 2 location will either be an Amazon Fresh or a smaller Amazon Go depending on the size of the completed retail space, and will have “Just Walk Out” technology equipped. Just Walk Out requires Amazon One, an in-store code, or credit card linked to an existing Amazon account. After scanning at the entrance, shoppers can select their items, bag them, and skip the checkout by scanning their app again and walking out.
According to the Amazon Fresh site, “customers will find a wide assortment of national brands and high-quality produce, meat, and seafood.” The site also boasts low prices, speed and convenience, and use of the entirety of the Amazon system, with the ability to use Alexa devices placed around the store for help managing lists and navigating the aisles. Amazon also advertises many additional benefits exclusive to Amazon Prime members like free same-day delivery.
According to initial reporting done by the Washington Business Journal, Amazon has applied for a liquor sales license for the new Dupont location and a secondary as-yet unopened storefront near McPherson square.
Amazon advertises that all their physical grocery stores, including Whole Foods Market, accept the use of SNAP EBT cards, with some exceptions. As of 2018, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recorded that 14% of households, or 112,000 people, in the District of Columbia received SNAP benefits.
A spokesperson from Amazon declined to comment on the rate of SNAP use in their D.C. area store locations. Amazon also did not respond to requests for comment regarding further planned stores for the Washington Metro area.
According to Commissioner Paul Trantham of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 8B, an Amazon location in Ward 8 could help stimulate the area by bringing more jobs for people. Trantham also discussed some new developments that have come to the area, including the Ward’s first Starbucks location off Martin Luther King Avenue, but said the plans to bring more grocery stores are as of yet unclear.
The USDA’s Economic Research Service’s food access atlas shows low-income and low food access areas across the D.C. area. According to existing permits filed with the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, none of the existing or proposed locations for Amazon Fresh stores overlap with these areas.
Ward 7 has at least two, soon to be three major grocery stores, but ANC7B Chair of Economic Development Committee Kelvin Brown stressed the need for more. Brown said there are “disparities ward to ward,” when it comes to grocery access for the 80,000 people in his area.
When discussing these disparities, Brown drew comparisons to other stores opening in wealthy areas. He said the new Wegman’s store in Tenleytown is the latest example of an “overproliferation” of grocery stores in wealthy areas while his Ward still suffers from a lack of them.
He said that Ward 7 Councilman Vincent Gray’s 2018 legislation to bring new stores to the area is admirable, but more needs to be done to get grocery store leaders to do their part. Gray’s legislation known as “East End Grocery Incentive Act” became effective in 2019, and is intended to attract affordable grocery options to under served areas in Ward 7.
A new development for this week is the opening of a Lidl store in Ward 7. This is the first major grocery store to be built in the area in over a decade.
Ward 7, join me as we bring greater food access to your neighborhood with the opening of the first full-service grocery store East of the River in over a decade.
🗓Tuesday Sept 27
📍2224 Town Center Dr SE
— Mayor Muriel Bowser (@MayorBowser) September 26, 2022
The D.C. Food Policy Council’s annual report shared data on the continued lack of grocery stores in Wards 7 and 8 relative to the rest of D.C. According to their reports, D.C. has 185 stores and a population of nearly 700,000. The D.C. Food Policy Council is a coalition of food leaders appointed by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser to drive food policy in the D.C. area.
But the distribution of these grocery stores remains unequal. Further data from D.C. Hunger Solutions, an initiative of the Food Research and Action Center, shows that Wards 1 through 6 have nearly 70 grocery stores of varying sizes, while Wards 7 and 8 have fewer than 10 between them, even after the passage of Gray’s law.
With a combined population of 161,000, there is one grocery store per 20,000 people in Wards 7 and 8. According to the Food Policy Council, “Black and Latinx households, households with children, and seniors continue to be at higher risk of food insecurity than the general District population.”
D.C. Government’s fiscal year 2022 budget allotted nearly $60 million over three years to “significantly expand access to grocery stores and sit-down restaurants in Wards 7 and 8 through targeted incentives,” according to the budget summary.
Despite the new investments to close the existing grocery gap, the Food Policy Council and other groups in D.C. working for food justice highlight the need for further assets. These include the need for additional emergency food assistance for high-risk populations, and an expansion of federal nutrition assistance programs like SNAP.
The new Dupont store is slated to open at 1350 Connecticut Avenue NW near the south entrance/exit of the Dupont Circle Metro station. The surrounding area of the Dupont Circle neighborhood is full of up-scale restaurants, hotels, embassies, and million-dollar homes, along with several full-size grocery stores. According to Redfin, the average price for a home in Dupont Circle is close to $450,000.
While a new Amazon grocery store will certainly bring jobs and economic development to the Dupont Circle area, the need for this type of development is felt keenly in other neighborhoods.
Based on the apparent need felt in many areas in Wards 7 and 8, people would greatly benefit from a store like Amazon Fresh. Per the Advisory Neighborhood Commission 7B, “a lot of Ward 7 is a food desert.”
Brown also said that when making decisions on what types of businesses to bring to certain areas, it is necessary to look for ideas that enable and benefit communities like his, and that it is also necessary to involve people in the communities who will be directly affected.
Trantham also said that his community would benefit from Amazon sending corporate people to the monthly ANC meetings and engaging with people. “They [Amazon] needs to let us know what their intentions are,” said Trantham during an interview. “We should be at the table when they make the deals.”