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Creating successful supermarkets in neglected inner-city neighborhoods is hard. Training workers, maintaining security or even acquiring enough land are daunting tasks for prospective grocers in communities where access to grocery stores is limited.
For Progress Plaza, the nation’s first African American-owned shopping center, a $17 million renovation will include the construction of a 46,000-square-foot, 24-hour supermarket operated by The Fresh Grocer. The supermarket is scheduled to be complete early next year, due to an eight-month delay caused by complications with permits and scheduled renovations of the rest of the center.
The historic plaza is located at 1501 N. Broad St. It was founded in 1968 by the late Rev. Leon H. Sullivan, former pastor of Zion Baptist Church in North Philadelphia. In honor of the plaza’s history, the redeveloped shopping center will be named Sullivan Progress Plaza.
The new grocery store is part of the Fresh Food Financing Initiative, a program that has subsidized the development of two dozen supermarkets in deprived urban and rural areas of Pennsylvania. There has not been a supermarket in the plaza since Super Fresh vacated in 1999. The closing was a result from the flight of large chains in impoverished urban areas nationwide.
“Right now, if you wanted fresh foods, where would you go? This is really an unhealthy neighborhood,” said Rico Jones, 61, a street vendor at Progress Plaza and a North Philadelphia resident. “You’re surrounded by a lot of fast food places and no place where you can get fresh poultry. You have to learn how to eat unhealthily.”
Jones said Progress Plaza, which has been plagued by vacancies, subjects the area’s youth to urban blight.
“A new market would be welcomed. We have to make a fair way for the youth of this area. This is a come up, and it’s all for the betterment,” he said.
Junior marketing major Jared White said the new grocer is a sign of things to come for the urban district surrounding the campus.
“I think it’s very beneficial. I won’t have to take the train to go to grocery shopping. It’s going to be good for the community. It will bring more jobs for college students and the people who live here,” White said. “I just hope it’s not expensive.”
Benjamin Gilbert, supervisor of Plaza Management Office, said the renovation will attract other vendors to areas surrounding Main Campus.
“I think once it’s done it will be one of the crown jewels of this area, coupled with what’s going on at Avenue North. The plaza will create a viable market place for this area,” Gilbert said.
Bill Brown, also a North Philadelphia resident, said the impact of health issues among the elderly in his neighborhood is a serious issue. Brown has operated his street-vending business at the plaza for 10 years.
“You have a lot of seniors that live in this area. Things like fresh produce and meat are lacking in convenience stores,” Brown said.
“I think the driving force is the community and the need to have a supermarket,” Gilbert said.
The Fresh Grocer will provide a large produce and seafood selection, organic foods, a coffee bar, a sushi bar, a bakery, brick-oven pizza and a variety of gourmet and prepared foods. The supermarket will also include rooftop parking.
“I feel that this project should have happened three years ago, but I’m happy students coming to Temple after me will have some place to go to do their shopping,” White said.
The beginning phases of the renovation are already visible. The once-vacant lot at Broad and Jefferson streets currently accommodates a newly designed Citizens Bank, a Payless ShoeSource and an additional retailer that has not yet been identified.
Progress Investment Associates, Inc. owns and operates the plaza, but the redevelopment is being directed by Progress Trust, Inc., the plaza developer. Currently, existing tenants’ buildings are being reconfigured and will be complete in June 2008. A two-story office and retail complex will house a United Bank drive-through branch, a plus-size women’s store, RadioShack, Dollar World and other retailers.
Gilbert said two new businesses are expected to join the shopping center, but they have yet to be determined.
“Temple certainly is going to help because the supermarket is going to be open for 24 hours, and there is going to be a large prepared food section,” Gilbert said. “Students who do not necessarily cook a lot can come over and get cooked meals.”
Brittany Diggs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.