(Updated at 8:30 p.m.) An older office building in Crystal City may be converted into apartments, and developer JBG Smith is soliciting public feedback on the project.
JBG Smith is looking to convert a 12-story office building at 1750 Crystal Drive into a 21-story residential building. The building, across from the Crystal City Water Park, would be 257 feet in height.
In the first phase of the “Central District” project, a new 74,000 square foot, street facing retail area would be built, reportedly anchored by an Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. The retail area may also include a smaller-format grocery store, like a Trader Joe’s.
A JBG Smith presentation says the project would include “delivery of nine screen Alamo Drafthouse Theater that shows first run and art house films as well as dining, entertainment, and event space hosting.” According to the feedback website, JBG is hoping to start construction in the fall and to have the theater open by the spring of 2020.
As part of the project, a two story, 16,000 square foot retail building would be built at the corner of 18th Street S. and Crystal Drive — next to a proposed second Crystal City Metro entrance — with renderings showing an sizable outdoor dining area adjacent to it.
Feedback from JBG’s online portal is helping to shape the development, said a representative for the company that created the portal.
“It’s a new approach for the developer, which added online outreach to the traditional process involving community meetings,” said the rep. “Over 1,600 people have interacted with the Central District at Crystal City website… Based on the feedback, JBG Smith has committed to providing seating, plantings, and seasonal events in the plaza.”
“The developer is also recruiting a full-service grocery store, which online voters said was the most important element to make the spot a neighborhood destination,” he added.
(Updated at 4 p.m.) Rosslyn residents are a bit happier with the neighborhood than they were last year, but they’d still like a new grocery store.
The results from the Rosslyn Business Improvement District survey, conducted in December 2017, were released earlier this month and point to a growing desire for healthy food options.
“Better grocery stores came up as the top desire for residents and the second for those who live in, work in, and/or visit Rosslyn,” the report said.
Currently, an aging Safeway and a newer Target Express are the main grocery options.
However, Rosslyn residents might be getting a new grocery store at some point in the near future, noted a Rosslyn BID rep, if an approved Monday Properties development at 1401 Wilson Boulevard moves forward. Plans are currently is on hold and a grocery tenant has not been announced for the location.
The survey also found that neighborhood negativity was down slightly, but there were areas with room for improvement.
Fewer residents expressed negative feelings about shopping options — down from 64 percent to 58 percent. Agreement that longer hours would get people to spend more time in Rosslyn dropped by three percent to 52 percent. Just over half of respondents noted that longer or later restaurant or shopping hours of operation would encourage them to linger in Rosslyn.
Survey takers said healthier food and more sit-down restaurants would be a welcome addition.
“Whether with food or retail, the overall consensus is a strong desire for more and better options, with local options playing an underlying theme,” said the survey results. “For dining, the public is unsatisfied with the limited sit-down dining options and desires more diverse and full-service restaurants. Additionally, a desire for healthy food options (including vegan, vegetarian, and organic) emerged in both dining and grocery options.”
Overall satisfaction with Rosslyn as a place to work went up from 87 percent to 91 percent.
“We see an overwhelmingly positive shift in perception from 2016 to 2017,” said Maureen Goldman, Rosslyn BID marketing and communications director. She said she was pleasantly surprised by the survey results and that the company would be capitalizing on the sentiment shift to make Rosslyn more of a destination.
“Perception change is a long game, it isn’t something that happens overnight,” she said.
Respondents were able to write-in the first words that came to mind when thinking about Rosslyn. The BID didn’t provide exact word count figures, but the group created a word bubble visualizing the word size corresponding with the frequency of the response.
The largest word on the chart was “convenient,” followed by “accessible,” “corporate,” and “clean.” Fewer respondents appeared to use words like “walkable,” “nice,” “food,” or “beautiful” to identify Rosslyn.
“Boring” was no longer within the top ten words used to describe the neighborhood.
Photo via Google Maps
More Stuff Coming to Ballston — Even more hip food-and-drink spots are on the way for Ballston. A 3,000 square foot Union Kitchen Grocery store is coming to the ground floor of the revamped Ballston Quarter mall, at the corner of Wilson Blvd and N. Randolph Street, while a Compass Coffee cafe will also be opening in the mall. [Washington Business Journal]
Wheels Stolen Off the Lot at Dealership — Someone stole tires from three vehicles parked in the lot of a car dealership on Lee Highway just after midnight Wednesday. “An unknown suspect(s) removed the tires from and tampered with multiple vehicles in the parking lot of a business,” police said in a crime report. There is no suspect description and no surveillance footage, we’re told. There is a Toyota dealership on the 4000 block of Lee Highway, where police said the crime occurred, but also a Honda dealership nearby. [Arlington County]
Garvey Confident About Amazon — Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey is optimistic about Amazon coming to the area. “I think Amazon is very likely coming here,” she said at a Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce conference, shortly after it was announced that Northern Virginia, D.C. and Montgomery County, Maryland were among the top 20 finalists for Amazon’s HQ2. “We have got everything here.” [Washington Business Journal]
Much of the D.C. region is under a Winter Weather Advisory tonight as a coastal storm packing snow, icy cold temperatures and strong wind nears.
Arlington County crews have been mobilized and are treating roads in anticipation of an inch or so of snow tonight and tomorrow, potentially disrupting the morning commute.
As of 4 p.m., grocery store shelves in Clarendon still had plenty of milk and toilet paper, though the former was being frequently restocked by store employees. The scene, at least thus far, was nothing like that outside a D.C. Trader Joe’s store that was mobbed by customers last night.
A Winter Weather Advisory has been issued for the Washington and Baltimore metro areas and points to the east from late this evening through Thursday morning. Expected snow totals are higher the further east you go. pic.twitter.com/yVoDRlaLQY
— NWS DC/Baltimore (@NWS_BaltWash) January 3, 2018
More from the National Weather Service:
… WINTER WEATHER ADVISORY IN EFFECT FROM 10 PM THIS EVENING TO 11 AM EST THURSDAY… * WHAT… SNOW EXPECTED. PLAN ON SLIPPERY ROAD CONDITIONS, INCLUDING DURING THE MORNING COMMUTE ON THURSDAY. TOTAL SNOW ACCUMULATIONS OF AROUND ONE INCH ARE EXPECTED. * WHERE… THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, PORTIONS OF CENTRAL, NORTH CENTRAL AND NORTHERN MARYLAND AND CENTRAL AND NORTHERN VIRGINIA. * WHEN… FROM 10 PM THIS EVENING TO 11 AM EST THURSDAY. * ADDITIONAL DETAILS… VERY COLD CONDITIONS MEAN THAT SNOW WILL QUICKLY STICK ON ROADS AND SIDEWALKS… MAKING THE THURSDAY MORNING COMMUTE DANGEROUS. PLAN AHEAD AND ALLOW EXTRA TIME TO GET TO YOUR DESTINATION IF TRAVELING LATE WEDNESDAY NIGHT OR THURSDAY. BITTERLY COLD CONDITIONS WILL FOLLOW FOR LATE THURSDAY THROUGH THE WEEKEND CAUSING SNOW TO REMAIN ON UNTREATED SURFACES. PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS… A WINTER WEATHER ADVISORY FOR SNOW MEANS PERIODS OF SNOW WILL CAUSE PRIMARILY TRAVEL DIFFICULTIES. BE PREPARED FOR SNOW COVERED ROADS AND LIMITED VISIBILITIES, AND USE CAUTION WHILE DRIVING. THE LATEST ROAD CONDITIONS FOR THE STATE YOU ARE CALLING FROM CAN BE OBTAINED BY CALLING 5 1 1.
More from VDOT:
Virginia Department of Transportation and contract crews will mobilize late Wednesday night to treat roads for snow forecasted to arrive before Thursday morning’s rush hour. A second week of frigid temperatures continues to turn falling precipitation into slick road conditions. Small amounts of snow falling on below-freezing roads can easily melt from the friction of vehicle tires and then quickly refreeze into a layer of ice.
Once fully mobilized, please watch for crews as they stage along roads ahead of time. Crews will treat roads with salt and sand as needed once snow begins to fall overnight Wednesday and will remain on duty until road conditions improve. Please give treatments trucks room to work, as they are very heavy and drive slowly.
Drivers are asked to:
- Stay tuned to weather (see National Weather Service forecast).
- If conditions are icy, avoid or delay trips for safety. Otherwise, allow plenty of extra time and reduce speeds significantly.
- Assume any pavement may be slick. Crews are unable to plow a light coating, and even previously treated roads become slick quickly with low pavement and air temperatures.
- Take it slow on bridges, ramps, overpasses, and other known trouble spots.
- Ensure gas tanks and wiper fluid tanks are full.
A deli and grocery store in Virginia Square will close today (Friday), but is expected to reopen next month.
A sign on the front door of Jen’s Kitchen (901 N. Nelson Street) said all its grocery items including beer and wine must go, with everything half-price.
But Jen’s is set to reopen in late January under new management, the sign reads.
The store between Starbucks and a dry cleaners, on the first floor of the Virginia Square Apartments and just feet from the neighborhood’s Metro station, sells hot food and fresh salad as well as breakfast, lunch and dinner.
It opened in 2015, replacing the former Metro Cafe and Gourmet.
More than a dozen people protested outside Harris Teeter in Ballston this morning (Monday), urging the grocery store to make it easier to access a form of emergency contraception.
Protestors gathered near the store at 600 N. Glebe Road just after 10 a.m. holding signs and chanting, urging the grocery store to put Plan B One Step on its shelves. Currently, customers must pick up a card on the shelf for Plan B and take it to either a pharmacist or store manager to redeem it.
Plan B is a time-sensitive medication to prevent unintended pregnancy when taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, but the sooner it can be taken, the more effective it is.
The protest was organized by Reproaction, a direct action group formed two years ago to help increase access to abortion and reproductive justice: the right to parent, the right not to parent and the right to raise children in safe and healthy communities.
“For over four years, the FDA has authorized emergency contraception to be sold on the shelf to anyone regardless of age or gender,” Erin Matson, co-director of Reproaction, said. “You pick it up off the shelf the way you do Tylenol. What Harris Teeter does is asinine.”
For others protesting, it was a chance to stand up for the rights of immigrants and the LGBTQ community, who are able to access such contraception easier than other types requiring identification.
“Plan B is something we have fought for so we don’t have any barriers for it,” Alejandra Pablos of the Virginia Latina Advocacy Network said. “It’s very important when you think about all the immigrant people, the trans people from the LGBTQ community having Plan B accessible to you without ID, without that barrier is super important.”
And Shireen Shakouri, another protestor, said she came to protest after some difficult experiences in the grocery store.
“When I was younger, trawling through the aisle that had sexual health products, I was often followed,” she said. “I don’t need that policing now, I didn’t need it then and I’m here to speak out against it.
Matson said Monday’s action is part of a wider push against the grocery store’s policy, timed to coincide with Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“We’re kicking off our campaign to make HT put emergency contraception on the shelf where it belongs at the beginning of the holiday season on purpose,” she said. “This is a time when shoppers are busy and coming over here, and we wanted to make sure we got the word out and make this change happen.”
For its part, Harris Teeter said in a statement posted on news website Rewire last year that the product must be sold by a pharmacy associate or store manager, as they are certified under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
More than a dozen protestors in Ballston calling on Harris Teeter to sell Plan B One Step emergency contraception on the shelf, not from a pharmacist. pic.twitter.com/9CXFVhFtJS
— Chris Teale (@chris_teale) November 20, 2017
Arson Not Suspected in Ashton Heights Blaze — The house fire that critically injured an occupant of a house on N. Ivy Street in Ashton Heights “doesn’t appear to be malicious,” says the Arlington County Fire Department. The blaze caused about $300,000 in damage to the home. [Twitter]
Homes in Arlington Get Pricier — “A total of 237 properties went to closing in September, up 8.7 percent from the 218 transactions a year before… With the increase in sales came a nearly identical hike in average sales price, which was up 8.8 percent to $640,441.” [InsideNova]
Police: Arlington Woman Left Stroller in Middle of Road — “A 19-year-old Arlington woman was arrested on Sunday after she allegedly left an infant in a stroller in the middle of the road in Woodbridge while she bit and assaulted an acquaintance during an argument.” [Prince William Times]
Lidl Struggling to Break Into U.S. Market — Lidl, the German grocery chain with its U.S. headquarters in Crystal City, is reportedly pulling out of a lease deal in Prince George’s County, Md. as it struggles to gain market share in the U.S. [Washington Business Journal]
Lost Dog Taking in Shelter Pets from Puerto Rico — The Arlington-based Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation is among the local organizations taking in shelter pets from hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico. [WJLA]
Grohl References ‘Mario’s Pizza’ at D.C. Show — Northern Virginia native Dave Grohl said “we’re all going to Mario’s Pizza” while wrapping up a Foo Fighters performance at The Anthem in D.C. last night. The band will headline the venue’s grand opening tonight. [Twitter]
A Pentagon City resident has launched a social media campaign against abandoned Costco shopping carts, which she says are a persistent “eyesore” for the neighborhood.
Sarah Wohl started posting from the @CartsOfPCArl Twitter account on September 20, after walking around the neighborhood with her husband and finding it “comical” to see so many. She has tweeted about two dozen photos of abandoned carts in the week since the account launched — showing carts near apartment buildings, next to parking meters and outside restaurants.
“I’ve lived in Pentagon City for a couple of years, and since I’ve moved there, there’s always been Costco shopping carts everywhere, and it is an eyesore as you walk around,” Wohl said. “They’ll be by cars, by apartment buildings and blocks away from Costco. They’re kind of everywhere.”
— Pentagon City Girl (@CartsOfPCArl) September 20, 2017
NBC Washington reported earlier this year on residents’ renewed efforts to improve matters, including writing to Costco and documenting the abandoned carts.
And past online petitions have urged Costco to “take responsibility” for the carts left behind by their shoppers.
“These abandoned shopping carts create safety hazards and bring the overall image of our community down,” reads one petition from four years ago. “Please assist me in making our community a better place that doesn’t have shopping carts littering parking lots, store fronts, streets and our local park.”
Wohl said things haven’t improved, and that the responsibility must be shared between Costco and those who shop there.
“I think it’s because people live around there and don’t want to drive to Costco, but you can’t really carry bags of stuff from Costco home, so it’s easier to just take a cart and bring it home and then it’s a pain to bring it back,” she said. “Or people that drive from elsewhere may just take the cart to their car, which they don’t park in the Costco parking lot because that’s always a headache and they leave it by wherever they park their car.”
So Wohl decided to shine a light on the problem in her own way, using humor to highlight the neighborhood issue.
“It started as a silly thing, just putting it on Twitter, but it’s part of a larger problem,” she said.
For residents, visitors and businesses alike, Wohl said the sight of so many abandoned carts damages the neighborhood’s character.
“I think it detracts from the community and detracts from Pentagon City and Crystal City, because it looks like an eyesore and it looks a little trashy having these carts everywhere,” Wohl said.
A Costco spokeswoman declined to comment.
Photos via Sarah Wohl (@CartsOfPCArl)
Shoppers can expect to see some discounted items at the Whole Foods in Clarendon (2700 Wilson Blvd) after online retailer Amazon bought the grocery giant.
Already, signs featuring both company logos indicate discounts on fresh produce like avocados, tomatoes and apples, as well as pasta sauce, almond butter and walnut halves. More discounts could follow in the near future. Many products have been reduced in price by $1, while avocados are now available for $1.49 each, having previously been at $4 for two.
The slashed prices follow Amazon’s $13.7 billion purchase of Whole Foods, which it closed on Monday after being allowed to proceed by the federal government.
Bloomberg reports that it slashed prices in some stores by as much as 43 percent, and also had its Amazon Echo voice recognition electronic assistant on sale for less than $100.
In a press release announcing the acquisition, the companies said the Amazon Prime delivery and membership service will be integrated into Whole Foods’ sales system, giving members discounts and other benefits. They also promised to lower prices while maintaining the quality of Whole Foods’ products.
“It’s been our mission for 39 years at Whole Foods Market to bring the highest quality food to our customers,” John Mackey, Whole Foods Market co-founder and CEO, said in a statement. “By working together with Amazon and integrating in several key areas, we can lower prices and double down on that mission and reach more people with Whole Foods Market’s high-quality, natural and organic food. As part of our commitment to quality, we’ll continue to expand our efforts to support and promote local products and suppliers. We can’t wait to start showing customers what’s possible when Whole Foods Market and Amazon innovate together.”
Whole Foods has a second Arlington location in Pentagon City — though there was no sign of Amazon-driven discounts there as of Monday afternoon (update: a reader, below, says the discounts are now in place) — and there are rumors of another landing in Ballston. A new building at 750 N. Glebe Road had been eyed for a new Whole Foods, but will instead host a small-format Target.
— Rebecca Middleton (@rebecky75) August 29, 2017
A small grocery store at the Dominion Hills Centre shopping plaza will close at month’s end, another business to depart the neighborhood strip mall.
The Dominion Hills Grocery & Deli at 6035 Wilson Blvd will close at the end of July after 13 years. The store’s owner said the closure is because of a sudden rent increase by the property owner.
A sign on the store’s front door reads:
To our friends, neighbors & customers at Dominion Hills Centre,
This is to inform you all that Dominion Food-Mart will be closing on July 31, 2017. We deeply appreciate the loyalty and the support from you all for the past 13 years.
It has been a great pleasure knowing and being friend[s] with you.
We will miss you all very much!
The store is the latest to depart the shopping center, months after Little River Yoga Studio, Great Harvest Bread Company and the florist all shuttered.
Those storefronts are still listed as being for rent by the property’s owner, Rosenthal, but all are still vacant.
A reader emailed to say that she and others in the Dominion Hills community are concerned that the shopping center will “go the way of Clarendon,” which has seen the departure of long-time businesses as rent has increased.
Alamo Drafthouse Coming to Crystal City — An Alamo Drafthouse Cinema will be coming to Crystal City to anchor a residential redevelopment by the JBG Smith. The redevelopment will convert the aging office building at 1750 Crystal Drive to a gleaming glass-and-metal residential building while topping it with a six-story addition. Also planned is an as-yet unsigned “specialty grocer” — think: Trader Joe’s or something similar. [Washington Business Journal]
Home Prices Rise in Arlington — “Long & Foster Real Estate Inc. says the median selling price in Arlington County last month was $613,500, up 15 percent from May of 2016. The change was based on 350 closed sales in Arlington in May.” [WTOP]
County Looking for More Tech Grant Recipients — Arlington Economic Development is looking for more tech companies to lure to Arlington with its $1 million “Gazelle Grant” program. AED is seeking another 8-13 companies that are growing by at least 30 percent over a three year period and are willing to commit to at least a three year lease. [Technical.ly DC]
Since opening Filipino grocery store Fiesta Oriental in 1991, Fred Sunga and his family have done much more than sell food and provide other services to a bevy of loyal customers.
“When you have a Filipino business, your country people, they come to you for information,” he said. “They always call you, if they have a problem they will call you. Even if sometimes their car won’t start they will call and ask if I know a mechanic.”
But next month marks the end of an era, as the 67-year-old Sunga is set to retire on June 30 and close the Arlington Forest staple at 4815 1st Street N. That means that the area’s growing Filipino community must go elsewhere for groceries or to send money and packages to family back in the Philippines.
Sunga moved to the United States in 1978 and started working in a bank before opening Fiesta Oriental. He prides himself on staying true to his Filipino roots, right down to watching television shows from the Philippines in the store and speaking to customers in Tagalog, the country’s official language, or one of its many dialects.
And in addition to Filipinos, who come from as far away as Manassas and Maryland to shop at his store, local schoolchildren will now have to go elsewhere for their after-school snacks.
“When the school bus stops there, the kids are going to come and get their candy and soda,” Sunga said. “Just last week I told them that I’m closing up the store next month, and they said, ‘Why? Why are you doing this to me?'”
For the family, Fiesta Oriental was a major part of growing up in Arlington. Sunga’s three daughters, Audrey, Alyssa and Angelica, all worked there at least part-time from elementary school onwards and helped on Sunday when they would cook and sell homemade Filipino dishes.
The store is open every day from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., except Sundays, when it closes at 6 p.m.
Audrey Sunga, who has a 2-year-old son, Emmett, and another baby due in August, said it is a shame that the family business will close before they are old enough to appreciate it.
“We’re going to start buying rice for the first time in our lives,” she joked. “For Emmett and the baby on the way, it’s kind of sad they won’t be able to see this. We grew up with it our whole lives, so it’s sad to see it go.”
Fred Sunga, meanwhile, said he is looking forward to being a “stay-at-home grandpa,” and enjoying more time with his family. Both Audrey and Alyssa work in Arlington and graduated from VCU, while Angelica is still there studying electrical engineering.
While he is excited to start the next chapter of his life, Fred Sunga said it is hard when customers are clearly upset he is leaving.
“I’m going to miss the store that I’m doing every day,” he said. “Especially when my customers, when they come here and I’m telling them I’m retiring next month, I feel so sad when they say, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to miss you.’ Some old people, they cry when I tell them I’m retiring.”
With redevelopment just around the corner, the Food Star grocery store on Columbia Pike will close as early as next week according to a sign on its entrance.
Its lease at the property is set to expire on May 25. The grocery store is expected to move to 206 W. Glebe Road in Alexandria’s Arlandria neighborhood and replace the Foodway currently there.
The sign, written in English and Spanish, reads:
Dear Food Star customers:
After 32 years of business it is with sincere regret that we inform you that Food Star supermarket will be closing permanently at this location between April 30 and May 15, 2017. It is our utmost priority to inform you of this decision as you are a very important part of the Food Star family. We appreciate your business and are thankful for your loyalty. We hope to have the opportunity to continue serving you at our new location at: 206 W. Glebe Road (formally Foodway), Alexandria, VA 22305.
We will notify you which day we will open. Thank you for your business and continued support.
The store at the corner of Columbia Pike and S. George Mason Drive is set for demolition along with several small retail businesses for the “Columbia Pike Village Center” development. More than 1,800 people who wanted to “Save Food Star” signed a petition against the plan last year.
In its place will be a new 50,000 square foot Harris Teeter grocery store, 31,530 square feet of new ground-floor retail space and a 22,150 square foot public square. The project also includes a six-story apartment building with 365 market-rate units, retail space and a three-level parking garage.
The Harris Teeter is expected to open in late 2019.
Arlington County has posted a list of other food stores in the area, the closest of which is 0.5 miles away from the Food Star, that residents can go to during construction of the new grocery store.
Of the other stores in the plaza, the Para Ti hair salon has already relocated to S. Carlin Springs Road. April was its last month in the strip mall.
A food delivery service that’s popular in New York City is coming to Arlington and some other D.C. area locales.
FreshDirect, a well-funded online food retailer that delivers “farm-fresh produce, high-quality meat, seafood, dairy, prepared meals and grocery staples,” is launching in Arlington, Bethesda, McLean and parts of the District next week on Wednesday, April 5.
FreshDirect will offer next-day delivery to just about every Arlington ZIP code: 22201, 22202, 22203, 22204, 22205, 22206, 22207, 22209, 22211, and 22213.
“The service will offer 12,000 high-quality products and give residents the chance to try popular specialty foods such as Roberta’s pizza from Brooklyn, Wandering Bear Cold Brew Coffee, dairy-free yogurt from Anita’s, premium deli meats from Boar’s Head and JUST FreshDirect Wild Caught Albacore Tuna,” a PR rep said.
More from a press release:
FreshDirect sources from farms in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.
No-subscription meal kits will also be part of the offering, giving D.C. consumers more options for dinner tonight. In addition to home delivery, FreshDirect also feeds D.C.’s busy workforce with an ‘At The Office’ service, which includes chef-prepared breakfasts, luncheon platters perfect for business meetings, catering services for events, and popular brands of snacks, beverages and pantry items…
FreshDirect customers can order next day delivery in the two hour window of their choice via web or mobile app as early as 6:30 a.m. through 11:00 p.m.. Customers can either pay per order for the service cost of $7.99 with a $40 minimum spend per order or pay an annual fee of $129.00 for unlimited free delivery through DeliveryPass. DeliveryPass members enjoy unlimited free deliveries and exclusive special offers and savings. First timers can get a 2-month trial for 1 cent.
FreshDirect opened its new D.C. facility in Prince George’s County and has hired more than 50 local employees as part of the expansion. For more information, visit www.freshdirect.com or download the iPhone, Android and iPad mobile apps.
Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.
There’s a well-known phrase claiming that from necessity comes invention. But sometimes it’s more the case of “from annoyance comes invention.” That’s exactly what prompted a local entrepreneur to invent an app to ease lost wanderers’ frustration at the grocery store.
Minh Tran, of Safety Now Solutions, has created an app called Basket Helper that points users to desired items at a Giant grocery store. It’s not for all Giant stores; very specifically, it’s for the Virginia Square Giant at 3450 Washington Blvd. Right now it’s a pilot that Tran hopes will expand to include other locations.
He took this on as a personal side project, unrelated to Safety Now Solutions’ typical work.
“We usually do public safety software, but this project I made kind of for myself because I was so frustrated with the shopping process,” he says. “Basically when I go to the supermarket I often don’t know where things are. It’s frustrating to walk up and down the store [aisles] staring at the sign that’s above you just to find the right aisle.”
Although some grocery stores have similar apps that show customers which items are in which aisles, Giant does not. Enter Tran and his test pilot.
The app functions simply: Users type in the items they want to purchase, hit “search” and the store aisle number appears. The platform is programmed to accept many partial word matches or alternate spellings, so entering “lightbulb” and “light bulb” should both provide the correct aisle. Some brand names also come up with a match.
A unique way Tran envisions the app helping people is when they send someone else on an errand to the store. Users can go onto the website app and “actually send your partner the link” showing all the items’ locations, says Tran. “You can type in the things you need and then copy and paste the search link to your partner and they would know which aisle to go to,” he says. That means no more “I couldn’t find it” excuses from the person who went on the errand.
The pilot launched earlier this month on iOS, Android and a website app. Currently it is independent of the Giant grocery chain, but Tran hopes to change that. He has pitched the app idea to Giant and is waiting to hear if they’ll buy it and expand it to other stores. He’s also considered contacting Safeway, because that chain’s app only allows users to search for one item at a time.
Devising the app itself only took a day or two; what’s been time consuming is entering all the items into the database. But Tran only expects to deal with that for the pilot. Once stores purchase the app, they’ll then enter the information themselves. “You can do it quickly if you have multiple people doing it in multiple aisles,” Tran says. Perhaps, for example, employees could add the items to the database as they restock the shelves.
Keep in mind that this prototype can’t guarantee that every single item in the Virginia Square Giant is listed. But so far it comes pretty darn close; with about 3,000 searchable items, Tran estimates about 75 percent of the store’s items are in the database.
“I thought a tool like this would be helpful,” he says. “I wanted to see if people would embrace the idea.”