It may have been a long time coming — and plans are still far from final — but the Brewerytown community might finally have access to a local supermarket.
During a Thursday, April 28 meeting at Celebration Place, a church at Girard Avenue and 27th Street, state Rep. Michelle Brownlee (D-195th dist.), City Councilman Darrell Clarke (D-5th dist.) and representatives from the Bottom Dollar Food supermarket chain presented a plan to bring a store to the currently vacant site at 31st Street and Girard Avenue.
Initially, there was some concern amid residents that the politicians might have wanted to sneak the meeting by, because it was scheduled on the last Thursday of the month, a typical day for community groups to hold their own separate meetings.
Also, Adam Lang, of the West Girard Supermarket Coalition, said his group wasn’t notified of the meeting.
But, Clarke took blame for the mistake, saying the date was moved at the last minute because one of the presenters, Jeff Smith, real estate development manager for Bottom Dollar Food, couldn’t make a previous date.
Following the presentation, Lang said he was satisfied with Clarke’s reasoning.
The plan shown that evening would see an 18,279 square foot supermarket brought to the triangular site that has been notoriously difficult to develop — many plans in the past have struggled with design concerns.
In fact, in 2008, the Community Design Collaborative, a Philadelphia-based volunteer design center, selected the site as part of an “Infill Philadelphia” design competition specifically because of the challenging layout of the land at that 2.8 acre area.
This proposed plan would also include an additional 5,000 square feet for smaller adjoining shops and a row of about 16 to 18 new townhomes in the rear of the complex. These homes would be built by Westrum Development.
The design would also include a parking lot for 94 vehicles.
Other operators have attempted to bring a market to this site in the past, but all on hand said this one is different.
Bottom Dollar is a branch of the North Carolina based Food Lion, which operates about 1,300 stores nationwide and is itself a branch of the larger Brussels-based Delhaize Group.
That means, organizers said, this is a well-financed corporation with the means to bring the multi-million dollar project — though representatives weren’t sure of a final cost — to fruition.
It wouldn’t be the company’s first foray into the Philadelphia area. Bottom Dollar has opened a few area stores, including one recently at Broad Street and Godfrey Avenue, in the West Oak Lane section of the city.
“It’s not a dollar store,” said Smith, easing some initial concern that the term “Bottom Dollar” meant lower quality foods.
“We do get a little bit of confusion with that. It relates to our low prices. That’s what you’re going to see,” he assured the audience.
In fact, Smith said not only would the store not be a “dollar store” but it would carry at least 70 percent national brands and would have a butcher on-site to prepare fresh meats.
And, he said, as Philadelphia is one of the regions in the country where his company sees the most demand for fresh foods, there will also be a large walk-in fruit and produce cooler to keep fruits and veggies as fresh as possible.
“We try to offer what our customers want the most,” he said. “We want to be good community partners.”
In fact, he said, the store wants to be active in the community — similar stores hold fundraising events for soldiers overseas or local schools, he said — and there will be a “community ambassador” at the store to organize local events.
While plans are early and there will be a future community meeting to help fine-tune the project, Smith said the Brewerytown store would be designed similarly to the one at Broad Street and Godfrey Avenue.
As with that store, he said, Bottom Dollar intends to hold a job fair in the neighborhood and expects to hire about 100 people to staff the business.
Ann Horsey, a Brewerytown resident who manages the Broad Street store, said she loves working there and she’d be proud to have a Bottom Dollar in her community.
“They don’t take away from the community, they do give back,” she said.
Residents on hand expressed a number of concerns about the planned project, including worries of increased traffic due to customers and trucks making deliveries.
Organizers replied that the area was designed with smaller delivery trucks in mind, with deliveries at the rear of the building behind a new row of trees and fencing.
They said there would likely be one larger tractor-trailer delivery per day. Representatives were open to scheduling deliveries to avoid interrupting rush hour traffic flow.
The group is awaiting a meeting with the city’s Streets Department to examine the impact on area traffic.
Also, some worried Westrum’s planned homes might not indeed be built.
However, Brownlee redirected concern, reminding the residents that they were there to talk about a plan for a supermarket.
“What we want tonight is feedback,” she told the audience. “We are not going to be making a lot of moves without community involvement.”
At the end of the meeting, it seemed most of the room favored the idea, with Lang, of the supermarket coalition, saying he especially appreciated that the company already opened a market in Philadelphia.
He said that instead of offering residents a look at a store in another state, he appreciated that they pointed to the West Oak Lane Bottom Dollar as a template.
“This seems to be the most polished project I’ve seen so far,” said Lang. “It’s a promising start.”
Mark Smith, a lifelong Brewerytown resident, said that the last time he remembers a supermarket in the community, was when he worked in a local shop as a young man.
Without a local market, he’s seen residents — especially the elderly — struggling to make long trips on public transportation to shop for groceries.
“This area needs this second chance,” he said.
Jean Geiger, a Brewerytown resident for over 48 years, was especially concise when asked if she approved of the plan.
“Bring it on,” she said with a grin.
After the meeting, Clarke said in the coming weeks, the developer will be meeting with city and state representatives to find out if there are any economic development funds available for the project.
They will then return to the community in an upcoming meeting to discuss further specifics of the plan.
If approved, the project will take about nine months for construction and project representatives said if everything goes well, they hope to open sometime in 2012.
“Yes, I do support this,” said Clarke when asked about the project. “I think everybody wants something to be developed there. We want to make sure it’s a positive and not a negative. But, I think this is a positive thing.”
Also, no positions are yet available at the proposed store, but Bottom Dollar is looking for additional staff at its Broad Street and Godfrey Avenue location.
For more information, visit www.bottomdollarfood.com/careers.asp
Reporter Hayden Mitman can be reached at 215–354–3124 or firstname.lastname@example.org