On Thursday morning, hundreds of residents from Northwest Philadelphia and neighboring communities were at Bakers Centre to celebrate the grand opening of a new ShopRite.
The 71,000 square foot supermarket, operated by the same family which operates the Roxborough ShopRite, will be the anchor store of the 30-acre, 220,000 square foot plaza, which will also include retail shopping, eateries, and a 73,000 square foot Restaurant Depot outlet.
Together, Bakers Centre is anticipated to bring 1,000 jobs to an area that straddles East Falls, Allegheny West, Nicetown, and Hunting Park.
Jeff Brown, president of Brown’s Super Stores, told Newsworks previously that the Bakers Centre location will be his company’s sixth urban store and among the largest of his ten stores. He says it continues a personal belief that large-scale retail developments can work in distressed neighborhoods.
“We’re very thankful for the fantastic relationships that we’ve built in this community during the planning and design of this store,” said Brown on Thursday.
Providing access to food and jobs
In addition to private investment and community input, the site was the recipient of significant public money and attention. In September of 2011, the project received $12 million in Pennsylvania Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program funding secured by state Sen. Vincent Hughes.
The Bakers Centre redevelopment project was the recipient of a 2011 federal grant to assist with economic development activities that would provide job opportunities for low and moderate income families in Philadelphia.
Congressman Chaka Fattah said on Thursday that millions of dollars of federal money have been allocated to the project “because we have a necessity and a right to have high quality shopping right here in our neighborhood.”
Fourth District Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr. referenced “food deserts,” describing neighborhoods with scant access to fresh food as a place where one “could get in trouble before you get a vegetable.”
The Roberts Avenue location is the fourth Brown’s ShopRite to open within Jones’ district. Earlier this year, Jones told NewsWorks that development would be prioritized in his district, with the Bakers Centre site being a signature site, both for access to food along with access to jobs.
On Thursday morning, Jones referenced a well-attended January job fair held at Dobbins High School, saying that the 1,200 people in attendance caused him to contact the governor to describe his constituent’s desire for employment.
“People do want to work,” he observed, “but the only way people can work is when you have venues like this to provide those opportunities.”
Addressing concerns about public funding
While some concern could be raised over the large sums of public dollars spent on the project, former governor and East Falls resident Ed Rendell attempted to allay any such anxiety.
Rendell calculated that the state income tax garnished from the wages of the 1,000 employees of the site would repay the state’s investment within six years.
“Whenever you hear that government wastes money, sometimes we do,” he remarked, “but there are times when government money creates a huge difference in [changing] people’s lives.”
While Rendell laughed that his favorite feature of the new supermarket will be its online shopping, the site was designed to be SEPTA-accessible, with two bus lines – 56 and R – being routed to serve patrons and employees.The ShopRite will also have a credit union and a health clinic, the latter of which was described by State Rep. Pam DeLissio as being among the site’s most important attributes.
“For this community to be able to access health care, that is huge,” said DeLissio. “[We] want to break this cycle of poverty, and I don’t know how that’s going to be broken unless we educate and intervene all along.”
‘Revival’ of a ‘worker’s village’
Mixed in among many neighbors taking in the speeches and the various snack samples was George Matysik, an East Falls resident and a staffer at Philabundance, a non-profit that tackles hunger in the region.
Noting the irony of working to combat food inequality during the day yet residing in what Jones called a “food desert,” Matysik was pleased with the installation of the supermarket, which was estimated by officials to be within two miles of 150,000 people.
For Matysik, the location had personal resonance: His grandfather, an immigrant from Poland, lived nearby on Roberts Avenue and was employed at the former Budd Company. He was enthusiastic at the potential impact of 1,000 jobs at the site, which harkened back to the employment opportunities once present in the immediate vicinity.
“It’s great to see the revival of that worker’s village here,” said Matysik.