For the first time in at least 50 years, the Sharswood section of North Philadelphia has a supermarket.
The neighborhood was ready. On Thursday, the first day of business, shoppers started lining up in the parking lot nearly three hours before the supermarket opened.
Longtime resident Cynthia Scott went through the register twice. She couldn’t pass up the deal she saw on a colossal bag of cat litter while filling up her cart the first time.
“The people in the neighborhood needed this because we all had to go out of our way to go food shopping. And it shouldn’t be that way.” said Scott, who often drove to West Philadelphia for groceries.
Now, she can walk to the grocery store. She lives just five blocks away.
“I love it,” said Scott.
Philadelphia’s latest Grocery Outlet, a full-service discount chain, is part of a sweeping neighborhood revitalization plan dreamed up by the Philadelphia Housing Authority.
Six years after demolishing a pair of public housing high-rises, Sharswood, one of the most disadvantaged parts of the city, is taking on a new shape. The agency has built more than 600 units of housing, reopened a shuttered high school, relocated its headquarters, and opened a mixed-use shopping center dubbed Sharswood Ridge.
The Grocery Outlet is the center’s anchor tenant.
“We delivered on the thing the community wanted most. That we were able to do this is, I think, probably the most meaningful thing,” said PHA president Kelvin Jeremiah, who was downright giddy during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new supermarket.
By the end of this year, the supermarket will be joined by an urgent care facility, a Santander Bank branch, an Italian deli, and a barbecue restaurant.
The area in and around the $52 million shopping center will also be home to 98 apartments. Most of them are market-rate.
The project, led by Mosaic Development Partners and Shift Capital, is the result of a complex public-private partnership that included $30 million in additional funding from the federal government, more than $16 million in new market tax credits from the state, as well as an investment from Josh Harris, the principal owner of the Philadelphia 76ers.
“We want this to be different. We want this to stand out. We want this to be an example of what can happen in a positive way in North Philadelphia,” said Leslie Smallwood-Lewis, co-founder of Mosaic.
While pushing his cart down the frozen food aisle of the supermarket, Kenneth Covil called the store a “blessing.” He’s spent years riding the bus to and from the grocery store, while also paying for overpriced staples at corner stores because they were closer.
He said he hopes he never has to go back to that.
“This is a hell of a thing,” said Covil.
WHYY is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.