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Magruder's 'Like an Old Home' to Employees, Customers

Closing of Vienna grocery store is "the end of an era," customers say, but sale could reopen it under a different name.

Magruder's in Vienna was buzzing hours after the company announced — a chaos marked by customers eager to take advantage of the half-off closing sale but also by a distinct sadness from longtime employees and customers, who have worked or shopped the store's aisles for decades.

Mid-afternoon Wednesday, the grocery store ran out of carts; customers carried goods in woven wooden baskets or empty produce crates.

Items like paper products, wine, beer, canned vegetables and cleaning supplies were all but wiped off the shelves; dairy products, frozen foods and produce items were still in stock.

Cars lined up waiting for parking spots outside the store that anchors the corner of Maple Avenue and Courthouse Road. Inside, customers — some of them pulling two shopping carts —waited in line for an hour or more.

At the end of each transaction, cashiers pressed a button — special, 50 percent off — that slashed each bill in half.

The closing comes as the family-owned chain is "currently in negotiations to sell the remaining four locations to a group who wishes to purchase the individual stores and reopen them as quickly as possible," Magruder's Vice President Gary Bortnick wrote in a letter. "And we are working diligently with all parties involved."

The letter, made available at the customer service desk of the Vienna Magruder's location, also said the Connecticut Avenue Magruder's liquor store in Washington has been sold and will continue to operate under the Magruder's name. 

The letter thanked the store's employees, unions, vendors and customers. "Although this is a difficult decision ... now is the right time for our family to move on."

Magruder’s, a "Washington landmark since 1875," was taken over by "a small group of local families" in 1967, the Washington Post reports.

The Vienna location, which opened in 1970, earned a reputation for its local produce selection and daily deals, but also for its employees, some of whom have become "favorites" of generations of Vienna families.

Wally McClanahan, who joined the company in 1994, has managed the store since the late 1990s. 

The grocery store in Vienna, he said: "It's like an old home."

It's a family-run business and felt that way, he said. "Everyone here will tell you that."

McClanahan said there are about 60 employees at the Vienna store. The goal of the company that may purchase Magruder's: They want to open "as quickly as possible," McClanahan said, which he said made him hope they'd rehire current employees to get things up and running.

Some cashiers were visibly upset as they rang up customers who offered their condolences at the end of their shopping trips.

Customer Rosseta Vingeviciute-Wilbur said she's only lived in town for a handful of years, but had developed a loyalty to the store.

As she made her last trip, she "hugged one of favorite cashiers and we took pictures with her," she wrote on Patch's Facebook page. "There won't be place in town where you can buy fresh cilantro for 67 cents or Amish cottage cheese."

Several customers of the store who heard the closing news on Twitter called it the "end of an era."

Kevin Lawton recalled "many an hour stacking produce in that place when I was going to school."

"In it's prime, it was the best place in town to buy produce," he wrote to Patch.

Some of the weekly special prices he remembered from the 1980s: "20 ears of silver queen corn for $1, 5 lbs. of snow white musroooms for $1, 4 quarts of strawberries for $1, 4 heads of iceberg lettuce for $1. It was a ZOO in that produce department. Sad to see the landmark go."

McClanahan said the store would be open until 8 p.m. Wednesday. He anticipated having enough produce to open at 8 a.m. Thursday, and sell it until it was gone.

What are your favorite memories of Magruder's? Any favorite employees? Share them in the comments.

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Related Content:

Future of Magruder's Unclear

Magruder's Closing with Half-Off Sale 

Magruder's Closing All Locations

Heather Barber January 16, 2013 at 11:54 PM
When I read, "Mid-afternoon Wednesday the grocery store ran out of carts;" (on FB)...I thought it was just the normal NoVA frenzy that ensues at the hint of a snow event - no matter how insignificant. I was relieved to read on and find that it was just a frenzy over saving a dollar. :)
Peggy Smith January 17, 2013 at 01:09 PM
Magruders has a storied history. Does anyone else remember the shirts they sold, "I Survived Magruders", a reference to the extreme crowding at the produce aisle? You had to park your cart somewhere else and run back and forth through the greens, systematically filling the cart by multiple trips. There was an employee designated to keep the parked carts in a straight line in the freezer section, so that others could pass though the aisles. Magruders was also the only place to find "foreign" products, in the days before Vienna was so diverse.
Lynn January 17, 2013 at 02:27 PM
I still have that classic Magruders' shirt from the 80's!
R. January 17, 2013 at 05:19 PM
I had forgotten all about the produce aisle....and getting called out for going down it my first time in the store. Thanks for the reminder! I miss having the old stores that have made Vienna a small town over the years -- Southern States, BIg Boy, and now Magruder's. If they are closing though, the space looks just about right for a Trader Joe's!

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