A hungry Michelle Booth walked up to the Super Pride Market in Cherry Hill with a fistful of change yesterday afternoon, ready to buy some chicken wings from the deli.
"Oh no," said Booth, 30, as she peered into the dark, closed food market in southern Baltimore.
Super Pride, once one of the city's largest independent supermarket chains, quietly closed the Cherry Hill store last week and plans to shut its remaining four markets by Friday, causing waves of concern in mostly poor neighborhoods where there are few shopping options.
Losing a supermarket is an inconvenience in any neighborhood, but it is especially painful in geographically isolated Cherry Hill, which has about 11,000 residents, many without cars, and now no major market.
Super Pride was the anchor for Cherry Hill Town Center, which was opened two years ago by Catholic Charities and hailed as the centerpiece of a transformation of the neighborhood
"It's a loss we didn't realize was even close to happening, and it's a grave concern," said Councilman Melvin L. Stukes, who is on the board of directors of the Cherry Hill Town Center. "That is a food market for a lot of people who can't get in cars and go to Giant or whatever."
Stukes said the town center is trying to bring in another grocery store as soon as possible but has not yet secured one. The nearest supermarket is several miles away on Patapsco Avenue.
For now, residents can shop at Cherry Hill's version of convenience stores: blue buses that are parked around the neighborhood and sell candy and household staples.
The other Super Prides that are closing are at 1600 Harford Ave.; Lafayette Avenue and Payson Street; West Belvedere Avenue in Pimlico; and Liberty Road in Woodmoor, Baltimore County.
Super Pride's president, Oscar Smith Jr., did not return phone calls yesterday.
Catholic Charities opened the Cherry Hill Town Center in 1998 with a $5.5 million renovation. This was the organization's first commercial retail project, and Super Pride, which opened a year earlier, was the anchor.
Stabilizing the community
The shopping center renovation and aggressive police enforcement were part of a community plan to help stabilize the lives of the neighborhood's poor residents while encouraging more black, middle-class professionals to make their homes in Cherry Hill - where about half the residents now live in public housing.
"This is a major setback for [the] community as far as goods and services, and it is a major setback for the dream of Catholic Charities," said Sister Loretta Rosendale, who is on the organization's board of directors and was instrumental in bringing the shopping center to the area. "The dream was to have a town center that would serve the residents' needs and where they could feel comfortable."
The market also was a point of neighborhood pride. Store aisles were named after nearby streets - soft drinks and brooms on Round Road, coffee and baby food on Reedbird Avenue.
"This is a disaster," said Anthony Towles, who works security in the shopping center. "Whatever's coming in better hurry up and get here. People keep asking me what's coming in, and I say, `I don't know.'"
Catholic Charities is holding a meeting tonight to discuss issues related to the closing, including whether to offer a shuttle bus.
Shoppers at the Super Pride in the 3700 block of W. Belvedere Ave. in Pimlico said it is their community's only grocery store.
"Winter is coming," said Marvin Jones, 54. "How are we going to walk miles to find some place to go?"
The Pimlico store is located in a shopping plaza beside the Bell Park Tower, a 12-story building housing senior citizens.
"This is crazy, where are these people going to go?" asked Denise Robinson, 37. "There is nothing around here. To call it a big loss is an understatement."
Jeffrey Metzger, publisher of Food World, a regional monthly food industry publication, said it appeared Super Pride Markets' demise stemmed from several factors, including a decline in the city's population and competition from other grocery chains. Three months ago, Super Pride closed three stores.
`A daunting task'
"Keeping pace with the competition in the industry is a daunting task," Metzger said.
He also said the company probably suffered from publicity it received when the city Health Department temporarily closed the Pimlico Super Pride for several days in June 1999, after health inspectors discovered an infestation of mice, ants and flies.
Metzger predicts some of the competitors that might have driven Super Pride out of the city's grocery market will likely step in to fill the void left by closings.
In Cherry Hill, the closing of the Super Pride will make business tougher for other shopkeepers in the center, they say.
"If people have to go out of Cherry Hill to buy groceries, they might as well buy everything else outside of Cherry Hill," said Alonzo Brown, owner of Bird 33 Sportswear Inc. "They will catch a hack (illegal taxi service) and leave Cherry Hill."
Sun staff writer Gerard Shields contributed to this article.