Waverly Giant under fire

The Waverly Giant, seen here in 2009, is being criticized by some people, who cite long lines inside and illegal vendors outside. (Kim Hairston/The Baltimore Sun / July 2, 2009)

Elected officials and community leaders are calling on Giant Food to improve service and quality at the Waverly Crossroads store, which serves north and northeast Baltimore, including Oakenshawe, Abell, Guilford and Charles Village.

They are circulating petitions and forming a steering committee as part of a public campaign called Friends of a Giant Step Forward.

Their petition asks Giant Food "to maintain the quality we expect and deserve, with enough staff to keep checkout lines short, better stocking of shelves, the highest quality meats and produce, and a safe, uncongested entryway and parking lot."

They say it's an effort to convince corporate representatives of the Prince George's County-based supermarket chain to meet with them.

"We need to go corporate with our effort and make sure the Waverly Giant receives the resources required for adequate staffing, so we don't have these long lines that discourage people from shopping," said City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke.

The Better Waverly Community Organization is forming a steering committee to bring the issues to Giant Food corporate officials in Landover, said Joe Stewart, a member of that community group and a founding member of the committee.

The Giant issues were discussed at the community organization's annual meeting Sept 19. Those in attendance included 43rd District State Dels. Mary Washington and Curt Anderson, and a representative for Del. Maggie McIntosh, also of the 43rd District. Clarke was also there.

Giant Food spokesman Jamie Miller responded to the criticisms in an email Oct. 4, saying, "At Giant Food, our customers' satisfaction is our number one priority. Recently we have become aware of a petition being circulated by the Better Waverly Community Organization regarding the operations of a store located in the Waverly community. We appreciate receiving feedback from our customers as every day we strive to offer the highest level of quality, value and service in all of our stores. Customer comments give us an opportunity to follow up directly with the many communities we are privileged to serve.  As with all customer comments, we will review Better Waverly Community Organization's feedback and follow up on any necessary issues." 

Miller would not elaborate further. Store manager Sheldon Williams could not be reached for comment.

"I was very vocal when we got our Giant," said Debra Evans, of Waverly, a steering committee member. "I just want it to be the best it can be. Unfortunately, it's not."

Evans said she now shops at the 41st Street Giant in Hampden, which she said has none of the problems the Waverly store has.

"You can walk from one to the other," she said. "How come they're so different?"

"It's been declining, it seems like each year," said Del. Washington, former president of the Abell Improvement Association and a regular shopper at the Waverly store. She said that when she compares the Giant, 601 E. 33rd St., to other area Giant stores, including in Hampden and on York Road at the county line, "It's not offering the (same) level of service. There seems to be a disparity."

Bonnie Bessor, current president of the Abell Improvement Association, said she too has seen long lines and said, "I sometimes feel like the people who are checking me out do not have good customer skills."

Critics of the Giant say motorists use the parking lot lot as a cut-through to area streets. They also complain about the presence of illegal vendors, who sell goods such as food stamps and CDs outside the store, and "hacks," who offer rides home to elderly shoppers, many of whom walk or ride the bus.

Critics say they aren't calling for the closing of the store that they worked so hard to get, and that they don't blame the store's management. They blame corporate officials, whom they allege are inadequately staffing the store.

Said Bessor, "There is definitely room for improvement there."