For Quiana McKissick, there’s no such thing as a quick stop at her neighborhood grocery store.
Nearly every time the 38-year-old West Philadelphian, who has limb deformities and uses a motorized wheelchair, tries to shop at The Fresh Grocer at 56th and Chestnut Streets she is forced to wait outside. Not because the store doesn’t have a way for her to get in, but because they keep the accessible entrances padlocked.
"So 98 percent of the time I’m on my own. I have to rely on the kindness of strangers to go and get the guard for me," McKissick said while sitting next to a locked handicapped accessible gate outside the store. "In the meantime, I just have to sit here and look silly, and it’s rather humiliating, really."
The supermarket uses metal poles, anchored into cement, to prevent people from taking carts out into the parking lot, and the two accessible ways through the blockade are chained and kept under lock and key.
PHOTO: Quiana McKissick waits outside the Fresh Grocer in West Philadelphia, which has been locking its handicap accessible door preventing her from entering whenever she wishes.
So no matter the weather, McKissinck says she’s forced to wait outside for a security guard to let her in -- which could range from a minute or so to 10 or more, depending on what the guard is dealing with. When no one is around to help, McKissick said she’s forced to go home empty-handed.
"It’s very degrading. I should be able to come and go as I please,” she said. "I shouldn’t have to stand out here and wait in the cold or rain or in the heat just to get in or out of the store. It’s embarrassing."
McKissick says she’s been dealing with the issue for nearly six years and her complaints have yet to produce a permanent positive change. The woman said several years ago she spoke with a former store manager who said the gates are kept locked to prevent the carts from being stolen.
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His solution, she says, was to install a bell outside for her to ring when she wanted to shop.
"He says, ‘Well, we’ll put a bell out there and you can ring the bell.’ And there was a bell there for about two days. That was humiliating," she said.
McKissick says she also contacted the Department of Licenses & Inspections twice about the issue. Both times, she said the problem was immediately addressed. But within a few weeks, she said the gate was again locked up.
“My concern is, what if there’s a fire or something inside of there and everybody is scattering? The guard’s not going to be thinking about me,” the woman said.
PHOTO: A view of the Fresh Grocer Store at 56th and Chestnut Streets in West Philadelphia.
The supermarket’s current manager, Jeff Beaky, declined to comment and referred the issue to the chain’s corporate office. The store is one of seven locally-owned supermarkets that operate as part of the Wakefern Corporation grocery store co-op. The organization runs Fresh Grocer and ShopRite stores.
Carly Spross, spokeswoman for the local supermarket group, was shocked to hear about the issues McKissick has been encountering and said the gate is only supposed to be locked while the store is closed.
“I feel terrible that it’s gone unnoticed,” she said. “Per our standard operating procedures, the handicap access gate is to be locked each night after closing and unlocked each morning upon the store’s opening.”
Spross apologized, saying managers are reviewing opening and closing procedures with all store employees to ensure the issue is resolved.
Ralph DiPietro, Deputy Commissioner for the Department of Licenses & Inspections, said the department is investigating whether the building code at the time the grocery store was opened requires the gate to be accessible. If that is the case, DiPietro said an inspector will be dispatched to the store to investigate and, if needed, issue a violation.
Asked about whether L&I would enforce compliance of the Americans With Disabilities Act, DiPietro said the city cannot directly enforce the law because it's federal legislation. However, building codes recognized by the city do mimic the federal law.
So why does McKissick continue to shop at the store that makes it so difficult for her to shop?
“I shouldn’t have to go out of my way just to get the things that I need, if this is the closest one to my home. Why should I have to travel?” she said.