Grocery Obsessions

This Cult-Favorite Grocery Store in D.C. Isn't Going Anywhere

Image Credit: Joseph Lamour

A lot of my childhood memories revolve around going to the grocery store with my dad. And not just any grocery store — we always went to Rodman's Discount Store. Established in 1955, and family-run (first by founder, Leonard Rodman, and then by his sons, Roy and Yale), Rodman's has long been a Washington, D.C. landmark — and a uniquely peculiar retail spot.

It's hard to describe without just having you walk into the store, but here goes: They sell everything under the sun and also, seemingly, whatever they feel like.

By the time I first remembered going there as a 5-year-old in 1988, Rodman's was already this strange hodgepodge of Pharmacy-convenience-liquor-lottery- European-Bakery and who knows what else, but all distinctly Rodman's — and the strange allure of its stock was part of the appeal. My dad would walk in there for red wine and come out with a toaster oven and a case of Italian sardines.

In 2018, I'm a sprightly 35 years old and Rodman's today looks pretty much how I remember it looking when I was seven, down to the distinctly '70s decor (which I love deeply, if I'm being honest).

My dad and I often stopped at the store before running more errands. We'd go for delicious-smelling French bread from an attached bakery called La Baguette De Paris, then continued on to Syms, a local D.C. clothing store, then, my personal favorite, Pearl art store, where I would get whatever I needed for the arts program at my school. The only store that still stands today out of all of those stores is Rodman's. And that makes me wonder, with so many of my childhood staples gone, how is Rodman's still standing?

Rodman's Is the Original Target

With more and more of the big-box stores like Target, discount supermarket chains like Aldi, and chain pharmacies like CVS eating up mom-and-pop shops around the country, more small businesses have resorted to selling everything online, or at a considerable markup (have you ever tried to buy something at RadioShack lately?).

Rodman's commitment to selling exactly what it wants to (everything you think you might need but forgot to write down on your list) is a big part of why it's still around. Rodman's bizarreness (and relatedly it's bazaar-like functionality) contributes to its success. Funnily enough, an article in the Washington Post agrees with me.

"With all the charm of a Magruder's supermarket, the sophisticated comestibles of a Sutton Place Gourmet and the matter-of-fact price-consciousness of Syms, Rodman's is a drugstore that thinks it's a department store. It's also an appliance discounter, a beer and wine store and a place to run to for a fast quart of milk," says Jura Koncius in The Washington Post on November 11, 1990, a little more than 18 years ago.

Koncius was totally right then about the local retailer having the same effect as a department store like Target. You really could walk in there expecting to buy sardines and walk out with a coffee maker. That phenomenon, the Target effect (a real psychological term) explains the spell big-box stores put you under, and on a smaller scale Rodman's can do that to you — and before Target even existed. Maybe they should be calling it the Rodman's effect?

It's Not About Size, It's About Personality

This is probably why Rodman's, at the time of Koncious' writing, was making double the profit of any of the big-box stores. "But the Rodman's story really isn't about size, it's about personality," Koncious continues. All through her article, Koncious asks people why they shop there and not the big-box stores, and time after time, they say it's because they can find everything they need there.

For me, it's the same, but also there's a comfort that comes with a store that's been around longer than I have. And honestly, in a world where everything is shiny and new, it's nice when something as reliable and needed as a grocery store doesn't change.