ShopRite to be built along Admiral Wilson Boulevard in Camden

Camden’s first major full-service grocery store in 30 years will open in 2015. Yesterday, Mayor Dana Redd announced that ShopRite will anchor a 20-acre retail plaza expected to contain an as-yet-undetermined mix of restaurants, shops, services and a bank at the intersection of Admiral Wilson Boulevard and South 17th Street in East Camden. This ShopRite, to be owned by the Ravitz family, operators of five others in Camden and Burlington counties, will be the first siting of the supermarket chain in the city’s history.

“This is an historic day for Camden,” Redd said in a statement. “I am so proud and happy to share this wonderful news today with our residents because this is the type of development project they have been asking for – one that will create jobs and opportunities for them.”

In addition to creating 400 construction jobs, 320 new full- and part-time jobs, and approximately $1.5 million in new tax revenues, the grocery will provide new-to-Camden amenities like hundreds of fresh produce and seafood items delivered daily; a selection of organic, all-natural and gluten-free products; a fresh bake shop; a butcher; a full floral department, and a pharmacy. The store will keep a registered dietician on-site to help shoppers make healthy or restricted-diet purchases, and customers with limited mobility can shop online and receive deliveries of their purchases.

As project developer Ken Goldenberg of the Goldenberg Group said in a statement that the supermarket and the to-be-developed Admiral Wilson Plaza represent a “significant step” toward addressing the designation of Camden as a ‘food desert’ by the USDA.

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“This project,” he said, “has the potential to be a game-changer for Camden and the surrounding neighborhoods.”Not only will the market bring fresh food within closer reach of tens of thousands of impoverished Camden residents, it will also supply an extensive range of international foods familiar to the Latin-American population of the nearby Cramer Hill neighborhood.

“It’s a great thing for the city and its children, and the Ravitzes know very well how to cater to the neighborhood,” said Manny Delgado, executive director of the Cramer Hill Community Development Corp., whose community is home to 4000 children under 18.

ShopRite a surprise to many

Political and civic leaders have tried to attract a major grocery chain to the city for decades, with neighborhood activists often fighting one another to gain position in the event that the city was to negotiate one.It’s for this reason that Shawn Burke, a local real estate broker who worked unsuccessfully for years to bring a grocery store downtown, suspects the announcement came as a surprise to him and his network.

“I think because the supermarket issue has been so heated for so long, it actually transcended normal development patterns,” he said. “Because every neighborhood has been screaming and fighting to get one, city leaders might have thought, ‘We can’t leave this in the hands of regular development groups from within the neighborhoods. So they ran with it and kept it quiet.”

The plaza, whose first phase will include the grocery store and 75,000 additional square feet of commercial space, will sit on land currently owned by the city. A spokesperson for the mayor said questions haven’t yet been answered as to whether the city will lease, sell or give away the land, and if the developer will pay taxes or make lower payments in lieu of taxes.

The parcel of the property that lies hard against Admiral Wilson Boulevard has been cleared and cleaned to make way for construction, and demolition vehicles lie in wait behind the decaying and long-abandoned factory buildings that abut it. Beyond that stretch more physical signs of industrial neglect, vast expanses of residential and commercial blocks pocked by boarded windows and graffiti, and too many empty lots for Burke’s comfort.

“It’s not really walkable for most people and it’s not very accessible by public transit. You’re forcing people to drive. So how much of the population are you actually serving?” he said, before noting that he does favor the concept, if not the location.

Though contracts have yet to be signed, permits yet to be obtained and full financing yet to be secured, a spokesperson for Goldenberg says the developer doesn’t expect any of it to be a problem.

Last year, Delaware County-based Fresh Grocer signed a letter of intent to open a full-service store at the as-yet-unbuilt Haddon Avenue Transit Village but that store is slated for 50,000 square feet.

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