Magruder’s is closing, employees of the Rockville-based supermarket chain, a Washington institution for more than 130 years, told customers on Tuesday.
While employees at the Rockville store echoed the message heard by customers at other Magruder’s locations across the region, the local chain’s corporate offices remained silent.
Rumors of the pending closure are true, a manager of the Magruder’s in Gaithersburg told Gaithersburg Patch.
"[Corporate] didn't come and tell us where and when is going to be the final day, but it is going away," said the manager, who asked not to be identified.
Pat and Ted Reuther arrived at the Rockville store in College Plaza on Tuesday afternoon and asked an employee greeting them at the entrance if the rumors were true.
The store will be closing within a couple of weeks, the unidentified greeter told them. Employees in store aisles with increasingly bare shelves told other shoppers the same news.
The store manager referred a reporter to Gary Bortnick, Magruder’s chief operating officer. Bortnick did not return two messages left Tuesday afternoon. Several messages left earlier in the week to others in the chain’s corporate headquarters on Parklawn Drive in Rockville also went unreturned.
Greg Hull, the leasing agent for Combined Properties, which owns College Plaza, said: “We have heard absolutely nothing.”
The latest tweet from the Magruder’s Twitter account, on Monday, listed specials on turkey, plantains, bananas and milk. There was no mention of a pending closure on Twitter or on the chain’s Facebook page, which had not been updated since an Oct. 2 status update cheering the Washington Nationals’ division championship.
Magruder’s once operated two stores in Rockville, one across Halpine Road from Congressional Plaza and another on North Washington Street in Rockville Town Center.
Magruder’s opened in College Plaza in 2003, closing the North Washington Street location, which was demolished to make way for Rockville Town Square. The College Plaza store took over a 10-year lease from Shopper’s Food Warehouse, The Gazette reported.
An A&P formerly occupied the anchor space in the strip mall at the corner of Frederick Road (Route 355) and College Parkway.
Pat Reuther, a 44-year resident of Rockville’s College Gardens neighborhood, said she shops “a couple times a week” at the College Plaza store.
“It’s not just a neighborhood grocery store. They’re people who’ve been working here for years,” she said. “Joe, the manager, came to civic association meetings.”
Maria Garavito was herding shopping carts in front of the Rockville store Tuesday afternoon when the Reuthers walked over to give her a hug and kiss on the cheek.
Garavito knows the exact day she started at Magruder’s—Aug. 31, 1982—the day the old North Washington Street location opened, she said.
Employees were told recently that the store would be closing, but weren’t given an exact date. The Rockville location would be open through the end of the month, Garavito said.
Commodore John Magruder founded Magruder’s in Washington, D.C. in 1875, with a store south of Chevy Chase Circle and another in Georgetown, according to the chain’s website.
The supermarkets expanded to locations across the region, becoming neighborhood institutions for generations of Washingtonians who flocked for the popular produce and specialty items. T-shirts sold at the stores bore a cartoon scene depicting the stores’ chaos, with customers stepping on each other’s heads as storekeepers yelled over the commotion.
“It’s a fixture,” said Ruth Spector, a former Montgomery County Council president and 44-year resident of Rockville’s Woodley Gardens neighborhood.
“It’s very sad,” she said after shopping at the Rockville location on Tuesday. “I always stopped here for the produce and the deli.”
Her first indication that something was amiss came two months ago. Spector went in search of an item Magruder’s always carried: whitefish salad. Her children were coming from San Francisco and she wanted to have the family favorite on hand. She was told the supplier wasn’t supplying it any more.
“I thought ‘Why isn’t the supplier supplying?’” she said.
In recent days, more and more items have not been restocked on store shelves and more and more customers have been asking questions.
Asked where he and his wife would shop now, Ted Reuther paused for a moment. “I don’t know,” he said.