Students, community look to grocer opening Dec. 11

After several delays, the first local grocery store in 11 years is scheduled to open this Friday in Progress Plaza at Broad and Oxford streets.

After several years of planning and months of construction, the grand opening of Progress Plaza’s Fresh Grocer – much anticipated by students living on campus and members of the community surrounding Main Campus – is scheduled for Friday Dec. 11.

Established in 1968 by the for-profit Progress Investment Association, Progress Plaza claims distinction as the country’s oldest African-American-owned shopping center. But it has lacked a grocer since 1998, when the 30-year-old Super Fresh closed. With the Fresh Grocer, community and city leaders hope Progress Plaza will once again help to usher in a period of growth and vitality for North Philadelphia.

“This neighborhood needs a grocery store,” PIA Board Chair Wendell Whitlock said. “Soon, we’ll finally be able to say that Progress Plaza has a grocery store that [PIA founder] Rev. [Leon] Sullivan would be proud of.”

But the process has not been without its difficulties, among them finding a grocer willing to risk the capital to set up shop in the urban environment. Local state Reps. Dwight Evans, D-203rd, and W. Curtis Thomas, D-181st, along with Sen. Shirley Kitchen, D-3rd, worked to procure a $5 million state grant that helped entice the Fresh Grocer chain to commit to the project.

“Supermarkets often find it easier to locate outside urban areas because of their high infrastructure and land costs,” Gov. Ed Rendell said when the grant was first announced. “Because of this, people who live in cities can have fewer food choices which, in turn, makes it harder to make healthy food choices.”

Temple students who have come to rely upon convenience stores, Rite-Aid and on-campus dining are no exception.

“It’s hard to get fresh food unless you have a car,” sophomore psychology major Samantha Salley said. “I don’t know how much it will change how people eat, but at least there will be more options.”

Salley said she looks forward to Friday’s opening and thinks it will be a much-needed improvement to the neighborhood.

But it may be even more impactful for area residents, who have gone more than 11 years without a full grocery store in their vicinity.

“It means a lot for a neighborhood to have a store like this, someplace to get the fresh meats and the fresh vegetables,” said Susan Reems, a life-long Philadelphian who lives on Ninth Street. “McDonald’s isn’t enough.”

Reems also acknowledged that being able to buy items in bulk will help people save money during the current economic recession.

“I know it’ll change the way I buy things,” she said.

It is such change that Rep. Thomas said he hopes to effect.

“We care about North Philly. When they told us that they needed a movie theater, we got one,” Thomas said. “Now, this store is set to improve the lives of thousands of people.”

Don Hoegg can be reached at don.hoegg@temple.edu.

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