ROCKVILLE – Shoppers Food & Pharmacy, one of the Metropolitan region’s most recognizable grocery store chains, will be shutting its doors for good in 2020, starting with 18 locations including three located within Montgomery County.

United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI), the parent company of the grocery store chain, announced on Dec. 6 that it will be closing 17 of its locations in Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Virginia, 14 of which were sold to new operators. Of those stores, two county locations, the Wheaton location (2201 Randolph Road) and the Takoma Park store (6881 New Hampshire Avenue) will close between now and the end of February 2020.

“Today’s announcement reflects progress on our commitment to reduce UNFI’s retail footprint and marks another step toward transforming UNFI into North America’s premier food wholesaler,” UNFI Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Steven L. Spinner said. “We believe that exiting the retail business will further accelerate our business transformation and allow us to more appropriately allocate resources toward long-term growth initiatives.”

The Wheaton and Takoma Park locations were purchase by Lidl, a German grocery chain who has made a significant investment in the state since starting its U.S. expansion in early 2019. Spokesperson Chandler Ebeiser confirmed the company’s purchase and stated that more announcements will be made in the future.

“As part of this effort, Lidl US plans to acquire six properties in Maryland and Virginia from UNFI.  In Maryland, this includes sites in Annapolis, Brooklyn Park, Oxon Hill, Takoma Park and Wheaton; in Virginia, it includes a site in Burke,” Ebeiser said. “We will be making significant investments in the redevelopment of these sites and will have more share in terms of the grand opening timeline and details at the end of next year.”

The third location, 5110 Nicholson Lane in Kensington, was not listed in the original list of stories but it has been confirmed that it will close in mid-January. UNFI Public Relations Manager Mike Wilken confirmed the closure, stating that the company attempted to find a buyer for the location but were unsuccessful. Instead, UNFI made an agreement with the property’s landlord to close the location. Grand closing sales will begin on Dec. 27.

In response to all the closures, Mark Federici, President of United Food and Commerical Workers Local 400, said that the timing of the announcements during the holiday season was “heartless” and unfair to the store employees. The union will make sure that all Shoppers locations continue to follow the rules stipulated in the contract as the process moves forward, Federici said.

“The hardworking men and women who put food on our tables should not have to spend the holidays worrying about how they will feed their families or where their next paycheck will come from,” Federici said. “UNFI has claimed that it wishes to divest from its retail operations in a ‘thoughtful’ manner, but the company’s actions to date have shown little thought toward the employees who have made Shoppers a successful grocer for decades.”

County resident Hanes Dobbison agreed. While he is happy to hear that a new grocer will take over in the Takoma Park location, the timing and the removal of the brand does not seem right. Since the opening of the location, Dobbison said he can recalling going to Shoppers “my whole life.”

“It is inconvenient to do this now (before the holidays),” Dobbison said. “You get used to seeing the same people and the same faces that even though Lidl is coming in, will those people come back?”

Shoppers began as Jumbo Food Store in the 1950s in Washington, D.C., before expanding into Maryland with Rockville receiving one of the first county locations. SuperValu, who purchased the supermarket chain in 1999, sold its assets to UNFI in 2018, leading to rumors of Shoppers’ demise. The company closed the pharmacies in all 30 of their locations earlier in the year, selling their inventory to CVS and Walgreens.

The effects of the closure may also impact how certain people will be able to get their groceries. Mount Rainer resident Josue Guevara does deliveries for Instacart, a mobile phone application that allows users to order groceries and have them delivered to their home. Currently, Lidl is not on the approved list of stores that uses the application’s services.

Takoma Park’s Shoppers is the clear favorite for his services, Guevara said, as he already completed five deliveries before 2 p.m. on Dec. 23 from that location. There are people who need the service, making Guevara curious if Lidl plans to take advantage of the local market that need groceries delivered to them.

“It is one less store for me to travel to but there are people who need this service and prefer that brand,” Guevara said. “People still request this Shoppers and once it closes, I do not know where they are going to turn.”

The only county Shoppers not mentioned was the Germantown location on 18066 Mateny Road in the Cloppers Mill Village shopping center. According to UNFI, stores not listed in their announcement will remain open and operate as normal until a sale for its property can be completed.

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