Like many of the shoppers cruising the aisles of the new Pigtown PriceRite at its grand opening yesterday, Yolanda McRoy was thrilled to have a supermarket in the spot where a Safeway once stood, until the chain pulled out in early 2010.
“There hasn’t been a place like this in the neighborhood for years, this will definitely be more convenient for me,” said McRoy, 35, noting that the new supermarket is a 10-minute walk from her home, where she lives with her 13-year-old daughter.
McRoy said she steers clear of the corner stores (“too expensive”) and until now has been journeying down Washington Boulevard to the Wal-Mart over the city line in Halethorpe.
But pleased as she was with the gleaming discount market – featuring yesterday fresh blackberries for 99 cents and lobster for $5.99-a-pound – McRoy offered only one concern.
“I just hope it stays nice.”
A Challenging Neighborhood
Community association leaders, many of whom have been complaining about the preponderance of drug and other treatment facilities in southwest Baltimore, had similar concerns amid their enthusiasm about the new store.
“I’m excited about the supermarket. I hope it’s a good market and does better than the Safeway,” said Scott Kashnow, of Franklin Square. “But I don’t see it as a major improvement to the neighborhood in terms of revitalization.”
Noting that the store is close to a new methadone treatment facility that residents protested against last March, Kashnow said that issue and others (crime, vacant rowhouses, uninviting retail blocks) are more pressing.
In a phone interview with The Brew, Kashnow tried to put the new PriceRite in perspective: “It’s a really good small step.”
At the store’s ribbon-cutting, attended by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, City Councilman William “Pete” Welch and other dignitaries, speakers celebrated the fact that the Mount Clare Junction plaza now has a tenant in its anchor spot.
A Safeway supermarket had anchored the plaza when it was created as part of city-sponsored neighborhood redevelopment in the 1980s. Over the years, many major tenants – a RiteAid drugstore, a Blockbuster video store as well as Safeway – moved out.
Fighting Against Food Deserts
Beyond its significance as a spur for community revitalization, speakers said yesterday, the new food store would be an oasis of abundant groceries and fresh fruits and vegetables in what has been a classic food desert.
Bringing the new PriceRite to southwest Baltimore, Rawlings-Blake said before a ribbon-cutting ceremony, was part of her city-wide campaign “to provide access to fresh and healthy food to all zip codes.”
The store would not only help her with her goal to attract new residents to the city, the mayor said, but would better serve those who are already here.
“This formerly empty store has been the bane of my existence,” she said at the ceremony, where she was joined by company executives and local managers.
A limited-supply discount supermarket chain, PriceRite is owned by New Jersey-based Wakefern Food Corporation, the cooperative that also supplies ShopRite supermarkets.
Amy Ott was thrilled with the bargains she was finding yesterday, saying they compare to the Westside Shopping Center, where the 26-year-old nurse said she currently shops.
“I have a lot to feed. I’ve got four at home and my mother has 10 in her house,” she said, as the two of them prowled the produce aisle.
Nearby, the mayor greeted customers and sampled fried queso blanco. Asked about the validity of neighborhood concerns that the store’s prospects would be dimmed by other problems, including the concentration of substance abuse patients, Rawlings-Blake declined to answer.
“Today, I’m focused on the excitement in the community” about the new store, she said.
Battling Problems, Boosting Community
Neighborhood leaders had plenty of upbeat news to report themselves yesterday, asked about their efforts to improve their corner of the city. Several said they notice more uniformed police officers on the street responding to what appears to be a crime spike lately.
“The police have really been trying to do a good job. Over the last week, they’ve arrested people for drug offenses and they’ve recovered a lot of guns,” said Jane Buccheri, president of the Hollins Roundhouse Community Association.
Because the Charm City Circulator stop at the Hollins Market was attracting a lot of loiterers and drug dealing, she said, the city moved it to another street. (“It was not helping our efforts to support the businesses in the square,” she said.)
She and Kashnow also spoke of what they said was abundant community energy to improve public spaces and press the city to improve retail blocks.
Renovation of the park at Union Square was just completed he said and the Christmas lights are up. Over the summer, Franklin Square residents made progress on the Sunflower Village – five vacant lots being improved with the help of community artists and Civic Works.
The methadone clinic issue, both observed, had the effect of bringing neighborhood groups together to form the Southwest Partnership, a coalition that includes Hollins Roundhouse, Pigtown, Pigtown Mainstreet, Mount Clare, Union Square and Franklin Square.
A city planner has been working with the partnership to help them draft a plan for developing the area.
But the problems highlighted by this year’s methadone program controversy have not been eased, Buccheri said, adding that her long-term goal would be to reduce the number of social service providers in the area.
Short term, she said, she’d like to see dedicated security guards to ensure safer streets. (Between them, two major clinics in the area treat 1,300 substance abuse and mental health care patients.)
Congressman Elijah Cummings “has been our champion” on the issue, she said, noting that no one from City Hall has been in contact with them for months.
“I hope we can get something going soon” with elected city officials, Buccheri said.
Among other issues holding the area back, vacants top Kashnow’s list.
Another priority for the Franklin Square resident is making West Baltimore Street an attractive “Main Street” commercial strip and turning vacant lots into less blighted spots and perhaps even performance spaces.
Mostly, though, Kashnow wants to put out the word that the area has promise. “We’ve got a great location, great affordable housing,” he said. “We have so much potential.”