Camden Supermarket Provides Hope for Struggling Economy

New Jersey's most impoverished city is getting a new supermarket.
Camden residents eating at City Coffee welcomed the news. "I heart ShopRite, for it to be closer is even better," said Irma Saldana said. "With a ride, I now go to ShopRite in Cherry Hill."

"Camden has been termed a food desert. The lack of access of fresh food in a supermarket has been a challenge in our city for more than three decades," said Camden Mayor Dana Redd.

The City of Camden, The Goldenberg Group and Ravitz Family ShopRites announced the new retail project at city hall today. ShopRite fills a void -- it will be the first major supermarket in Camden in more than three decades.

Alice Jester has three children and grocery shops twice a month. She described the grocery choices in Camden right now as limiting. "You end up going to multiple places to get everything you need."

Jester gets her produce from a different merchant than the rest of her groceries. "I look forward to saving money because you can get all you need in one place," she said.

Bert Andress said most of the mom-and-pop stores have canned and dry goods and some ethnic items, but lack specialty foods like stuffed chicken, pork chops and roast.

"Those stores are barely surviving in this town," said Andress. At present, Andress travels to Woodbury to shop, but said he will now shop at the new ShopRite.

"Literally, 30 years in the making is what we have here today," said state Senator Donald Norcross, a Camden resident. "On a personal level, it will be the closes supermarket to where I live."

The Ravitz brothers are fourth-generation family grocers. Each of the brothers has distinct roles in their company, Supermarkets of Cherry Hill, which currently owns and operates five ShopRites.

Senator Norcross addressed the Ravitz brothers recalling an early job while at the news conference today. "Thirty-five years ago, your grandfather gave me a job. I was a bagger at Shop N Bag."

The ShopRite will be built near 17th and Admiral Wilson Blvd. on property owned by the City of Camden. The 20-acre retail and commercial shopping center is to be named the Admiral Wilson Plaza.

Abby Santiago lives blocks from ShopRite's new destination. She and her neighbors said they didn't know about the news. "I'm happy," yelled Santiago. "They make the best cakes ever!"

"I really think they put off opening stores in Camden because they are afraid they may get robbed," said Jester.

"We're going to an area that is a USDA food desert," said developer Ken Goldenberg of the Goldenberg Group. The project is expected to be completed in 18-24 months with a pricetag of $30-40 million for phase I, according to Goldenberg. The money is expected to come from public and private funds.

"There should be a whole revolution of this going on across the country-- retail and mixed use developments in the inner city," he said. "The hope and excitement and the sense of partnership is palpable."

The Admiral Wilson Plaza project is expected to create 400 construction jobs and 320 full-time and part-time jobs. Council president Frank Moran described the new development as a sign of a renaissance in Camden.

Jason Ravitz said, "We don't fail. We know how to run a supermarket."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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