Some Neighborhoods Struggle to Attract Markets

    New supermarkets may be routine in the suburbs, but in some urban areas they are a rarity.

    New supermarkets may be routine in the suburbs, but in some urban areas they are a rarity. WHYY’s Elizabeth Fiedler and Peter Crimmins offer this joint report on local efforts to bring the benefits of fresh food to the inner city. First, Elizabeth Fiedler reports from Progress Plaza on North Broad Street.

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    Progress Plaza is famous; it’s the nation oldest African-American owned and developed shopping center.

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    But until recently the best it could boast was a Radio Shack and a Dollar Store Plus.

    Now Fresh Grocer is ready to open, and the neighborhood is excited.

    Area resident Al Jordan and his mother.
    Area resident Al Jordan and his mother.

    Jordan: I just hope they can handle the capacity of people that’s gonna be here. It’s about time they opened one on Broad Street.

    Al Jordan says he’s looking forward to trading in a two hour bus ride to the grocery store, for a seven block walk to the Fresh Grocer.

    Jordan: We needed this in the neighborhood, we really did.

    Gervaise Spencer says when she found out she got a job in the store’s Deli, she had tears in her eyes.

    Area resident and Fresh Grocer employee Gervais Spencer.
    Area resident and Fresh Grocer employee Gervais Spencer.

    Spencer: I’m on unemployment now that’s about to run out. And in this economy now it’s just important for me to re-establish myself and get my bills paid up because I was about to loose all my stuff.

    The new grocery store will pump new energy into a shopping center built in 1968 by the legendary civil rights leader Reverend Leon Sullivan.

    Standing across from the supermarket, Anita Chappell is admiring the current building, and remembering the Plaza’s early days.

    Chappell: Reverend Leon Sullivan said we may not have much money but if a lot of us put a little bit together, maybe we can do something. So he got 4,000 people to contribute $360. It was $10 a month, for 36 months. 4,000 people that’s what started this project.

    Chappell was one of those investors.

    Chappell: Lots of obstacles, lots of people who had no faith and just to see it come back to its strength and vibrance the way he imagined it, it took years, it took money, it took patience, it took tears, a lot of prayers. So it’s just marvelous to see it there. I’m just thrilled that I lived to see it.

    Lehmann: If we can do it at Progress Plaza, I think we can really do it anywhere.

    Yael Lehmann is the the Executive Director of The Food Trust.

    The last grocery store moved out of the plaza a decade ago. It took money to make Fresh Grocer happen.

    The grocery store and the Progress Trust, which owns the site, received $1 million in grant support from the Fresh Food Financing Initiative, a public-private partnership that helps supermarkets open in low income neighborhoods.

    Lehmann says that type of investment pays multiple dividends,

    Lehmann: When you have a supermarket nearby there’s over 100 research studies that show you purchase more fruits and vegetables and eat better, we also see that rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease are lower in neighborhoods that have supermarkets.

    Supermarkets also help keep retail buying power close to home, which helps the neighborhood-level economy.

    I’m Elizabeth Fiedler, WHYY News.

    …and I’m Peter Crimmins reporting from Chester, which has had less luck luring a supermarket. After taking countless meetings and offering millions of dollars of state money, no major supermarket has been willing to set up shop here.

    However, a Lancaster farmer is transforming a city-owned downtown buildings into a deli, bakery, produce market, and barbecue three days a week. That farmer is Daniel King.

    King: Farmers – we need time to get our stuff together to being it to market. Even at Reading Terminal, the Amish are not there every day.

    For one-stop supermarket shopping residents must travel to neighboring cities. The city’s economic development director, Jim Turner, says national retailers don’t see enough population density to make money.

    Turner: One of the questions is, do we help Daniel Kings do what he does all over the city while trying to get that major major market?

    Turner says many residents of Chester don’t have the ability to drive outside the city, and local mom-and-pop markets tend to be more expensive than high-volume supermarkets.

    More from WHYY News:
    Elizabeth Fiedler talks to Angel Coleman, the Executive Director of the Girard Coalition about trying to attract a supermarket to 31st Street and Girard Avenue.

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