Loss of supermarkets hurts seniors

council will appoint panel on issue

Two new groceries expected to open soon, officials say at City Hall

November 07, 2001|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Decrying the scarcity of supermarkets in Baltimore, a City Council panel resolved yesterday to appoint a task force to grapple with one of the city's most pressing needs.

After senior citizens, industry representatives and city government officials spoke on the matter yesterday at a Labor and Economic Development subcommittee hearing, 4th District Councilwoman Catherine E. Pugh said appointing a retail task force is in order. It will be composed of government, business and community leaders, and be in place by the end of the year, she said.

Officials said the group would complement the work of Kevin J. Malachi, the city's commercial revitalization director, who has devoted a year to recruiting grocery retailers. He helped bring an International Council of Shopping Centers program here last week to promote retail opportunities in the city.

Mayor Martin O'Malley has made it clear to aides that he considers seeking more supermarkets a quality-of-life matter, "hand in hand with fighting crime in stabilizing communities," his spokesman, Tony White, said yesterday.

Malachi said they city has 46 supermarkets, including neighborhood markets such as Cross Street and Lexington markets. That's about one market for every 14,000 residents, based on 2000 census figures.

Most of those who spoke yesterday were senior citizens on fixed incomes who, by all accounts, bear the brunt of hardship caused by a supermarket shortage.

"Sometimes, I get tears in my eyes as I ride across my city," said Edward Taylor, an elderly man from Howard Park. That neighborhood, along with others, recently lost its Super Pride stores when the chain closed its city businesses.

Helen Hickman was one of a delegation of seniors from Lake View Towers, about eight blocks from a closed Super Fresh in Bolton Hill. She said: "We're getting tired of spending money out of our area, all your day trying to bring a meal home. Seniors can't go but so far."

Robert N. Santoni Sr., president of Santoni's, a family-owned and operated supermarket in Highlandtown, offered a model for a smaller-scale grocery to be successful in an urban pedestrian setting. "We just started Web site ordering, and I was shocked at how many hits we had," he told the panel.

Santoni's will soon expand from 27,000 to 30,000 square feet, he said, close to what he considers the optimum size for a city store.

After the meeting, a Fresh Fields representative said the company plans to open a store in Inner Harbor East in the spring; and Malachi said one of the city-designated "Main Street" neighborhoods will also see a new grocery store soon.

City officials pointed to one obstacle: Safeway, Giant and other grocery giants have 55,000-square- foot business models which call for six- to 10-acre parking lots.

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