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Two Vienna Grocers Share How the Pandemic Upended Business

Easter is usually the busiest time of year for the Polish Market in Vienna, but this year, the family-owned grocery store couldn’t invite customers inside and instead offered curbside pick-up due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Oskar Skrzeszewski, who helps his parents run the business, told Tysons Reporter that they had to “do a 360” with operations when the pandemic hit.

“We were one of the first stores to implement safety glass in the beginning of the pandemic,” Skrzeszewski said. “We soon realized this wasn’t enough and we had to close the store completely to foot traffic. We operated on a curbside pick basis only, which was extremely difficult since we’ve never done anything like that before.”

Located at 431 Maple Ave W., the market has served Polish customers and people of Polish heritage for six years, selling pierogis, kielbasa, cabbage rolls, packzi, beer, New York cheesecakes and more, Skrzeszewski said.

The last few months have taken a toll on the business by completely changing its operations and taking a financial hit.

“Our revenues are about 30% down and we have fewer customers coming into the store,” Skrzeszewski said.

At the start of the pandemic in Northern Virginia, Skrzeszewski said that they had trouble finding personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies, but eventually were able to order gallons of hand sanitizer from a company. Masks were also hard to come by, but customers who worked in the medical field were able to help.

Currently, customers can only access about half of the store and safety glass is everywhere inside. The limited capacity has led to a dramatic decrease in the shelf space.

“We have to pick and choose the items we order a lot more carefully now,” Skrzeszewski said.

Despite the inconvenience, the Skrzeszewski said shoppers seem to be taking the public health measures well: “Our customers have been tremendously supportive and we’re very grateful for that.”

Over the last few months, Skrzeszewski said he’s seen consumer demand change a little as more shoppers stock up on kielbasa, beer and mustard for barbecues and camping.

Elsewhere in Vienna, a new small grocery store is also working to overcome the challenges posed by the pandemic.

Owner Rami El-Hasrouni told Tysons Reporter he was glad he converted Bey Lounge into the LB Food Market (303 NE Mill Street) in late 2019 after the lounge got in trouble multiple times over the Town of Vienna’s noise ordinance.

The market sells Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food and is right next door to Wooden Bakery. Both stores are operated by D.C.-based Woodfire Brands.

After deciding to end the lifespan of Bey Lounge, he decided to expand the small market that was in the bakery into its own concept

While he’s glad that he doesn’t have to worry about how the former restaurant and club would have stayed open during the pandemic, he said the grocery store transition has been tough.

El-Hasrouni said he was already in the process of rebuilding his customer base for the small supermarket — “Everybody is used to this location as a restaurant with nightlife, not a grocery location” — before the pandemic hit.

Night club aside, the location doesn’t help either.

“We are in a hidden location,” he said. “Nobody expects a grocery store to be in the warehouse district. That’s the toughest part for us. If we’re on the main street, people walking by them might see us.”

For the grocery shoppers the store has attracted so far, El-Hasrouni said that the fresh pita bread is the big draw. Shoppers can also find Mediterranean specialty items, like Lebanese olive oil, spinach cheese pies and homemade hummus, along with standard groceries: milk, eggs, vegetables.

Even though LB Market is essentially an expanded version of the grocery section in Wood Bakery, El-Hasrouni is hopeful that the name “is something new” that will also catch people’s attention.

As the pandemic continues, El-Hasrouni said he’s working to get online ordering available on the website, along with mailing people coupons and flyers to help spread the word.

Photos (1-2) via Polish Market/Facebook, photo (3) via LB Food Market/Facebook

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