Glover Park Whole Foods plans to remodel after rodent issue

The Whole Foods Market in Glover Park closed in March 2017. (Brian Kapur/The Current/March 2017)

While Glover Park celebrates news that a long-rumored Trader Joe’s will come to 2101 Wisconsin Ave. NW, the neighborhood is dealing with the temporary loss of its Whole Foods Market, which abruptly shut down last week after apparent health violations.

The D.C. Department of Health responded to a complaint about the Whole Foods at 2323 Wisconsin and an inspector identified various issues last Monday,  according to agency spokesperson Jasmine Gossett.

“Our inspection reflected that they had failed to minimize the presence of insects, rodents and other pests on the premises,” Gossett told The Current. “Once they saw some of the issues that we saw, they said, ‘OK, we’re going to take some time and close and fix these issues.’”

The Health Department concluded two days later that the issues had been addressed. But Whole Foods elected to remain closed for unspecified upgrades.

“We announced today that we will be remodeling the Georgetown store to offer our customers a fresh, new shopping experience,” a company representative wrote last Thursday on the Glover Park listserv. “Our goal is to exceed our customers’ expectations on every shopping trip, and making these investments in the store will help us to do that. We apologize for the inconvenience and welcome our customers to continue to shop with us at our nearby stores, including our brand new H Street location.”

The company’s message did not acknowledge the Health Department complaints, provide details about the planned remodeling or estimate when the Glover Park location will reopen. Spokespeople for Whole Foods did not return messages.

“On the one hand, we’re pleased that they’re taking the time to fix whatever it is that’s wrong as well as they possibly can,” said Jackie Blumenthal, chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3B (Glover Park, Cathedral Heights). “And on the other hand it’s difficult for a lot of people in the neighborhood who have gotten used to having Whole Foods so close and accessible.”

Confusion surrounding the closure didn’t help, Blumenthal said. Customers at first believed it was related to last Monday’s snow, while news of the remodeling spread only after a resident reported hearing it from a worker she bumped into at Starbucks, according to Blumenthal.

“Those of us who shop at Whole Foods every day — which I do because I live right across the street from them — we feel like this is our local community store,” she said. “The whole neighborhood was really infuriated by [the lack of communication], that they didn’t accord us the same sense of community relationship that we give them.”

Last week’s Health Department inspection followed a mandatory closure of Whole Foods in February. An initial inspection on Feb. 8 found only minor violations, such as cutting boards in disrepair. “No evidence of rodents was observed in any of the food prep areas at the visit. All traps observed had no activity,” the agency’s inspection report states. But the following day, another inspector was at Whole Foods responding to a new complaint. That inspector suspended Whole Foods’ license, having found mouse feces under the stockroom’s shelves. The store reopened Feb. 10.

Last week’s closure was voluntary and not ordered by the city.

Blumenthal said the store abuts a problem area for rodents on the Guy Mason Recreation Center property. “Whole Foods is situated in a location that means they have to be really vigilant about their trash-handling,” she said.

The nearby Safeway, a few blocks south at 1855 Wisconsin, has no recent cases involving insects or rodents, according to Health Department inspection reports. However, Ward 3’s other Whole Foods — at 4530 40th St. NW in Tenleytown — had “evidence of flies, fruit flies, roaches and rodent droppings” during a routine inspection in October.

Meanwhile, in other Glover Park grocery news, Trader Joe’s intends to open in the mixed-use development that will replace the former Holiday Inn, according to alcohol attorney Stephen O’Brien, who notified ANC 3B that Trader Joe’s intends to pursue an Alcoholic Beverage Control license for the property. “I can confirm that Trader Joe’s has signed a lease at 2101 Wisconsin Avenue NW and is proceeding with plans to open a store there,” O’Brien wrote in an email to The Current.

O’Brien referred further questions to Trader Joe’s, but the company’s press office didn’t return messages. John Clarkson of development firm JBG said his company “cannot confirm any retailer for the project at this time.”

Clarkson and other project officials discussed their plans at an ANC 3B meeting last fall: to convert the hotel building into apartments, construct a two-story mixed-use building on the parking lot in front of it, and to build new townhouse or duplex-style units toward the rear of the property. The plans include 20,000 square feet of retail space, 15,000 of which would be used for the grocery store. Construction is set to begin in April and take 24 months, Clarkson said yesterday.

Although the project doesn’t require relief from zoning regulations, JBG has been working extensively with nearby residents, ANC 3B and the D.C. Department of Transportation to address traffic concerns at the congested intersection of Wisconsin Avenue and Whitehaven Street. Possibilities under consideration include removing two or three metered parking spaces from Whitehaven to allow dedicated right- and left-turn lanes, according to Blumenthal. She said that she and immediate neighbors have been “delighted” by the Trader Joe’s news and that she’s optimistic that cooperation will continue on traffic issues.

Elsewhere on Wisconsin Avenue, the Washington Business Journal reported Tuesday that elusive supermarket Wegmans is in talks to anchor a development at the former Fannie Mae headquarters, though the grocery declined to confirm the report.