New Hill District grocery store could open by spring 2022
More than 100 people attended a virtual community meeting Monday night to hear from four grocers present their ideas to replace Shop ‘n Save on Center Avenue.
The online rally marked a new phase in the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s 18-month effort to aggressively pursue grocers interested in serving the area. The agency owns the site of the Heldman Plaza Center where the old 35,000 square foot grocery store is located.
“No one was interested except those you see on the call today,” URA deputy executive director Diamonte Walker told residents. âPeople just weren’t interested and some of our major grocery store operators in the area weren’t interested. “
However, Walker said that meant the four grocers who were in attendance – Family Tree Food Market, Fresh International Market, Pierre Development, and Salem’s Market & Grill – really wanted to be on the Hill.
For nearly three hours, participants weighed competing visions of the store.
Daniel Craddock and Khalid Morris of Family Tree Food Market described their concept of grocery shopping as an affordable mix between Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. They see food as medicine and want their store to help improve people’s lives by offering in-store innovations, such as a health center.
âWe make shopping fun, easy, informative and personalized to meet your unique budget, health needs and cultural food preferences,â said Craddock, a former Hill District resident with business degrees. and in public health.
Craddock and Morris said they will offer prepared foods, meal kits and food deliveries, as well as a cart to connect people to the store; they want to start farms on currently vacant land in the Hill to stock the store and open in March 2022.
Residents appeared skeptical in a conversation that followed. One person said they would not visit a dietitian at a grocery store, while several asked about the company’s history in the grocery industry. Craddock and Morris said they had not yet operated a store, but had built a team with extensive experience in the industry.
âIt’s a novelty. This is a new concept, âMorris said. But “a lot of years, a lot of experience, a lot of calculated research has been devoted to [it]. “
Pierre Development’s plan took a very different approach: The Hill District Food Co-Op aims not only to meet the needs of the community, but also to have residents shape the business as member-owners.
âInstead of making money for everyone, this is an opportunity for us to really get our community to start recycling money inside its own doors,â said Chef Claudy Pierre, owner of Pierre Development.
Pierre’s vision includes a storefront restaurant and would be a one stop shop for basic groceries as well as specialty foods and local produce, beer and wine. In addition, the plan includes another cooperative, ACE Hardware, which would offer a range of home and garden items.
Pierre said his concept brings together people who have worked in the community for years and draws on their particular expertise: Raqueeb Bey, founder and director of Black Urban Gardeners; Carol Hardeman, co-director of the Hill District Consensus Group; and LaKeisha Wolf, executive director of the Ujamaa collective. Pierre leads the non-profit Empowerment, Awareness, and Training (EAT) initiative, which helps “food insecure communities throughout the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area to stock up on, procure and prepare their meals.” clean healthy food â.
While a number of commentators said they were unsure whether the co-op model was right for the Hill, others applauded Pierre Development’s plans. A number of people wondered about the store’s nickname, Haiti’s Small Specialty Market. Pierre and Wolf explained that it was a tribute to the historic name of the Hill District, which referred to the 18th century overthrow of French colonial rule in Haiti by people once enslaved; they eventually established a new country and became the first nation to abolish slavery.
Fresh International Market, founded and owned by Bowen Kou, operates six stores across the United States. In the Hill District, Kou came up with a sister concept called Fresh IN Market, which âwould focus even more on the needs of the local community with a wide choice. [of] national and international cuisine.
The concept would add more shelves for dry goods to allow for a greater share of domestic produce than in other stores in Kou, while providing a food court, juice bar and bakery. Kou said he plans to hire in the neighborhood, but the store manager and department supervisors will be relocated from existing stores. In the chat, people reacted negatively to the news, as well as to the makeup of the store’s all-male management team. One of the few questions was asking Kou how many Hill District residents he had spoken to while planning his store.
âWe did a full demographic report,â he said. “I know the diversity, the history pretty well,” but said he had not yet had the opportunity to speak with people face to face.
The last presenter of the evening was Abdullah Salem, owner and CEO of Salem’s Market & Grill, based in the Strip District. Salem’s father opened the business in Oakland in the early 1980s to supply halal products to the city. The business moved to the Strip District and opened in 2012 with a larger grocery store and cafe.
While Salem’s has received requests for expansion to other locations, Salem has said the Hill District is where he wants to be. If selected, Salem would move the business to the Hill, with an expanded grocery store, expanded restaurant menu, and, eventually, a bakery. He said he plans to hire from the community for all positions and be a real neighbor “for whatever you need.”
He is committed to supporting the Hill District master plan and its goal of restoring the neighborhood’s vibrancy. While being the community grocer would be an honor, he said, âWe understand that this doesn’t really concern us. It’s about the Hill – the people who live there, the people we hope to welcome and the people we hope to welcome again.
Residents seemed excited about Salem’s proposal and asked about storage space that would be devoted to local produce, grocery delivery – it’s underway, Salem said – and alfresco dining. .
Residents of the Hill District have until September 30 to rank their first and second-best grocers and provide further comment. Former Hill District residents are also encouraged to submit comments: officials say they know there is a large Hill diaspora and have welcomed all comments, though they have added that comments from current residents will have more weight. (Hill District residents: send your comments here.)
The URA will incorporate community opinion into the selection process, as well as a feasibility assessment. Walker said the agency intends to sign a lease with the new grocer by the end of November in order to make the neighborhood a viable, community-centric grocery store as soon as possible.
âIt is inhumane that the Hill District continues to not have access to fresh food sources,â she said.
Under the terms of the lease, the URA expects the new store to open by the end of April 2022.