A large crowd gathered outside of the Shop n’ Save in the Hill District on ribbon cutting day Thursday; many of the people have waited a long time for a full-service grocery store in the neighborhood and now they have one.
“This is not something that’s been a day or a week in waiting, or even a month or a year, this is something that’s been decades in the making and it’s finally come to fruition,” said Michael Jasper, chairman of the Hill House Association Board.
Different challenges made for slow progress, but after funding was assembled in late 2012, ground was broken and the $12.5 million store was finished. Still, a list of community leaders who spoke at the ceremony said this grocery store is about so much more than food – it’s about community health and well-being.
“When you have place with statistics around diabetes and high blood pressure and obesity that are the stats of the Hill District, those are scary numbers,” said Cheryl Hall-Russell, president and CEO of the Hill House Association. “The lack of fresh food was part of it.”
The Hill District has long been considered a “food desert,” an area where affordable, healthy food is difficult to find. At the new Shop n’ Save, the first thing shoppers see when they walk in is a large fresh produce section. Many of the shoppers there on ribbon-cutting day gave rave reviews, but also showed some cautious optimism.
“Oh I love it,” said Hill District resident Bernice Morphis, “I hope it’s able to stay here.”
That’s not an uncommon concern, as past tries at smaller stores have failed. Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said the ultimate success of the store depends on those in the area.
“It’s your responsibility and the community’s responsibility to make sure it works,” he said, “I know folks have already said, ‘hey is this thing going to work? It’s subsidized, you put government money into it, can it work? Are there enough residents? Are people going to use it?’ The answer to that question is in your hands and in it’s in our hands.”
The store is expected to employ more than 100 people, 65 percent of whom are Hill District residents, 95 percent are minority. The Shop n’ Save at the Centre Heldman Plaza will also include other businesses.
“Dollar Bank will be inside,” said Hall-Russell, “we’re going to have coffee – Crazy Mocha is going to be here, Nationwide Insurance is going to be here, Cricket Communications is moving from where they are to be here, Subway foods will be here. It’s a plaza. It’s not just food, which is important, but there are services and there are other options and opportunities for retail that we simply haven’t had.”
The ceremonial ribbon was cut by 105-year-old Hill District resident Lillian Allen who said she’s seen the neighborhood at its low point, and added the opening of this grocery store symbolizes a new day for Hill District residents and businesses.