Food desert no more, Chester welcoming first grocery store in years

     Bill Clark, executive director of philabundance, inside the site of Fare and Square in July. (Elana Gordon/WHYY)

    Bill Clark, executive director of philabundance, inside the site of Fare and Square in July. (Elana Gordon/WHYY)

    Chester’s first grocery store in over a decade opens this weekend. On the eve of its public unveiling, the project’s visionary, Bill Clark, describes the store, on Trainer and 9th street, as a mix of mayhem and excitement.

    “In addition to about 60 of our employees here in various stages of training and stacking the shelves, we also have people coming in to prepare for the festivities tonight, we have contractors doing the last bits of the punch list,” said Bill Clark, executive director of Philabundance, a regional food bank, which owns and operates the store.

     Housed in a 16,000 square foot space, Clark says Fare and Square is far more than a corner grocer, with six check-out lanes, a seafood and fresh meat section, a deli, and fresh and frozen produce departments.

    Naomi Jay stopped by for a sneak peak Friday morning. The 69-year-old said Chester is hungry for fresh produce.

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    “The food looks beautiful,” said Jay. “And I see a few selections that I know I will come back and buy on a daily basis because I can make a salad and eat healthy that way. Even if I wanted to steam some vegetables, they’re right here. I don’t have to get in a bus, catch the next bus back and that’s it. Or, get in a car.”

    So far, more than 4,000 households or about 40 percent of Chester’s population have signed up for the store.

    Not your typical supermarket

    City leaders have been trying for years to court a big grocery store, but they say it has been a struggle, convincing supermarkets they could turn a profit.

    Fare and Square is different.  Philabundance, a food bank, is running it as a nonprofit, with about $7 million in support coming from private and government sources.

    “We’re hoping that it can provide a model not just for Chester and the Delaware Valley, but a model for taking the pressure off of hunger across the country,” said Clark, who adds the project has been at least four years in the making.

    Philabundance distributes close to a million pounds of food annually in Chester, according to Clark, with the need for food assistance growing beyond what Philabundance can meet. He expects average prices at Fare and Square will be 5 to 10 percent cheaper than a typical grocery. Discounts are also available for needy residents.

    Across town, meanwhile, city leaders are also celebrating the coming of the discount grocery store Bottom Dollar this winter.

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