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Balducci's is Closing in D.C.

alkapal Apr 7, 2009 07:03 AM

I saw this article linked on the Manhattan Board: http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/200...

According to the article, the D.C. store will close, while the Maryland and Virginia stores will remain open.

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  1. alkapal RE: DanielK Apr 7, 2009 07:08 AM

    there are six out of seven remaining open in virginia, maryland, connecticut, and scarsdale, ny. (we know the bethesda location is not closing, from the article.) thus, it could be speculated that one of the virginia locations MAY close.

    plus, who knows how long the others will stay open....
    .

    1. tcamp RE: alkapal Apr 7, 2009 07:27 AM

      I just went to the Alexandria one; it was busy. I rarely shop there (we have a glut of grocery options) but I hope it survives.

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        Indy 67 RE: alkapal Apr 7, 2009 08:35 AM

        Yesterday, I had a chat with Dave Pender, ex-chef of the McLean branch and now corporate executive chef. (I routinely shop at the McLean branch so I've become friendly with Dave over the years.)

        He talked about current plans for all the stores: introducing a double-sided buffet counter (hot dishes on one side and cold dishes on the other) and better monitoring of food to dispose of food past its peak faster. Other steps are being considered, but the company now has a new set of investors so management is waiting to hear their intentions before making other decisions.

        The topic of closing stores wasn't mentioned, but Dave's description of his routine made it clear that the Bethesda and McLean stores are safe.

        7 Replies
        1. re: Indy 67
          alkapal RE: Indy 67 Apr 7, 2009 03:23 PM

          indy67, thanks for that info.

          i wonder how some chowhounds will react to the buffet (GASP!) ;-).

          1. re: Indy 67
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            balduccisguy129 RE: Indy 67 Apr 8, 2009 04:52 AM

            Pender is the corp ex chef now? What happened to incredibly flaming "E" Effie Spiegler?

            1. re: balduccisguy129
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              Indy 67 RE: balduccisguy129 Apr 8, 2009 06:14 AM

              Sorry, I've reached the limit of my insight into Balducci's staffing with my previous post.

            2. re: Indy 67
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              Pappy RE: Indy 67 Apr 8, 2009 06:14 AM

              I've been shopping at the Bethesda store for 20 years. About 5 years ago, they had hit bottom. The goods were awful, and the service was even worse. If I recall correctly, they then had a shift of ownership, and within months, it was a whole new place. The quality of the merchandise sky rocketed. The appearence of the store soared. And the staff could not have been more pleasant.

              I have noticed over the past 12 months a severe slippage back to the old ways. The produce department is embarrassing, with rotten vegetables on display and everything else in prepackaged containers. The fish almost always way past its prime. And 1/2 the good in the aisles are now their house brand.

              It is clear to me that they make so much money on the prepared food, that they have turned all their focus here. I mean, I've seen them sell cooked green beans for $14.99 per pound. Meatloaf for $19.99 per pound. How could any business not like those margins?

              1. re: Pappy
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                darlin_clementine RE: Pappy Apr 8, 2009 06:42 AM

                I don't think the Bethesda store will be going anywhere soon... Even at the height of mismanagement 5 years ago their sales were booming.

                Last time I was in there, I was pretty disappointed with their grocery selection. Everything was cheap-looking private label, and they'd dropped some of the good, decently priced items that they bought through direct import. For example, they no longer had good Delouis vinegar for like $7.99... It was a choice between $19.99 vinegar or the same crap I can buy at Giant for $3.99.

                The customer service has always been very hit or miss. Overall, they treat their staff really poorly (I've seen it first hand) and have a bunch of low-paid recent immigrants working there for minimum wage.

                I've always felt that if they treated their employees better, there wouldn't be such massive waste/loss and their bottom line would improve. Those 500% markups on prepared foods don't really help you if your staff is doing everything they can to create accidental waste to 'get back at the man.'

                1. re: darlin_clementine
                  monkeyrotica RE: darlin_clementine Apr 8, 2009 07:55 AM

                  I stopped going to the Old Town store years ago. They used to have the best selection of imported beers around. Now they're no better than Shoppers Food Warehouse, only pricier. After getting home only to find my bread was moldy (again), I gave up. With the Whole Foods off Duke Street, there's no reason to go to Balduccis.

                  1. re: monkeyrotica
                    maoj RE: monkeyrotica Apr 8, 2009 01:37 PM

                    I also had issues at the Old Town store. The customer service was atrocious! (Was picking things up for a work party). It was bad enough that I have not been back, and I used to enjoy the one in Bethesda.

            3. p
              Pappy RE: ylanmui Apr 8, 2009 08:53 AM

              20, even 10 years ago, Sutton Place Gourmet, or now, Balducci's was an absolutely necessary resource for cooks and eaters in the Washington area.

              But frankly, I think that era is gone. They have been replaced by 1) the improvements at my local Giant, 2) their new competitors like Wegmans, Whole Foods, and maybe even Trader Joes, 3) the emergence of many, many ethnic markets like Super H, and Lotte, 3) and even specialty markets like Cowgirl Creamery and Arrowine for cheese, The Butcher and the halal markets for meat, and River Falls Seafood, G&H, Blacksalt, etc. for seafood. Think about it...none of those existed 10 years ago.

              My guess is this closing is the beginning of the end for all of them.

              7 Replies
              1. re: Pappy
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                flavrmeistr RE: Pappy Apr 8, 2009 11:31 AM

                Good point, Pap. Combine the exponential increase in quality and variety of foodstuffs in the local grocery chains (even the Giant Eagle in Frederick has an outstanding selection of imported cheeses and seasonal local produce) with the recent evaporation of wealth in real estate and 401k's and suddenly a $14 pound of butter doesn't seem like a necessity.

                1. re: Pappy
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                  Sean D RE: Pappy Apr 8, 2009 11:36 AM

                  I concur, Pappy. Gourmet foods are now accessible from many more sources, including the Internet. At the same time, Balducci's premium priced business model is doomed to become a casualty of this new age for frugality. During the past Christmas holiday I was crowded in there with the throngs of shoppers and all I could think to myself was "this isn't going to last much longer".

                  1. re: Pappy
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                    MikeR RE: Pappy Apr 12, 2009 01:20 PM

                    That's all well and good, but it means having to shop at several specialty stores, each with its own specialty, rather than one store. This is OK for retired folks like us, but a pain for busy people who like fancy food to cook at home.

                    The McLean Balducci's is still around, and I go there occasionally, so I'm not really affected. It would be nice to have a Wegman's closer in though.

                    1. re: MikeR
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                      chicken kabob RE: MikeR Apr 12, 2009 01:35 PM

                      I like the one in Bethesda- I am addicted to their plain brownies, mushroom ravioli and turkey chilli. I also love the coupons they send in the mail!

                      1. re: chicken kabob
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                        MikeR RE: chicken kabob Apr 13, 2009 06:12 AM

                        Maybe I should get on their mailing list. I might shop there more often if things I liked were cheaper.

                        1. re: MikeR
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                          Indy 67 RE: MikeR Apr 13, 2009 06:39 AM

                          Balducci's has two discount opportunities: a frequent shopper card produces a $10 discount coupon for every $250 you spend. This same card puts you on a monthly mailing list for five discount coupons: four 5% coupons, each of a week's duration, and a 10% discount coupon, good for the entire month.

                    2. re: Pappy
                      Bonz RE: Pappy Apr 15, 2009 02:07 PM

                      Pappy, I agree that the context for SPG has changed. But really, if you are living close to the DC branch, are you going to go to River Falls to grab tonight's dinner? Maybe occassionally, but not typically.

                      So I do believe that the demise of the DC branch is due to stand-alone horrors. I base this belief on experience. I lived nearby during its transition to the new owners, and it fell apart from (excuse the pun) soup to nuts. The staff changeover in particular was detrimental to the quality of both the experience and the product. I still miss the former wine manager -- his tips more than made up for the extra costs. And I found the same with the butcher, the fishmonger, the prepared foods . . . really everything except the produce and the bakery.

                    3. s
                      Steve_C RE: alkapal Apr 12, 2009 11:05 AM

                      I've been to the Alexandria store near my office many times, but I really don't buy anything there. Lot's of prepared food in boxes. In Ellicott City, MD, we are very lucky to have two good Korean stores. Superior fruit, vegetables, seafood. (I mean these places sell in one day the seafood that a safeway may sell in a week or two.) You can also buy the marinated beef ribs (galbi?), which is extreely good.

                      Plus the prices are right.

                      Places come and go, and to succeed, you need to be cheaper and/or better, and apparently Balducci's wasn't.

                      1. h
                        hefetc RE: alkapal Apr 13, 2009 08:56 AM

                        I've lived a block or so from the DC Balducci's for about 7 years, and it (the one that's closing, not so much the others) is basically a glorified convenience store. I gave up trying to buy cheese there after all the cheese I bought had been so poorly stored or handled that it was inedible. About once every 10 trips I end up with some good or other that is spectacularly past the pull date. Once by over a _year_. (A jar of capers, but still.) They have a bafflingly inadequate selection of organic products, but their non-organics are significantly more expensive than Whole Foods organics. Often they're out of things they just weren't keeping track of (eg, yeast during the holidays). It's tiny, hard to navigate even with a basket (forget carts) and things aren't always in logical places. Though the specialist-type employees (butchers, bakers, behind-the-counter people) are always pleasant and knowledgeable, the cashiers are ill-used, demoralized, unhappy and, not surprisingly, turn over quickly.

                        I think this branch would ultimately have failed even in a somewhat better economy... I think the basic problem is that they didn't have enough space to have a good selection and generally make it all work, so people only go there if Whole Foods was out of their way that day, so the stuff doesn't turn over... so people only go there if Whole Foods was out of their way that day... repeat.

                        But I will miss being able to walk to a grocery store in 5 minutes. And they had good sandwiches. Mostly I'll be watching with interest to see what replaces it.

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