Grocery store on east side a much-needed addition

Oliver area without a market since fall 2000

February 11, 2003|By Kimberly A.C. Wilson | Kimberly A.C. Wilson,SUN STAFF

Tonya Rice's cart overflowed with snow-day comfort foods: boxes of ice cream, bags of Utz chips, fat cans of Glory collard greens, 2-liter bottles of ginger ale and the packet of Gummi worms her daughter Imani dipped into while they shopped.

Two months ago, shopping at another store far from her East Baltimore home, such a full cart would have meant a costly hack ride for Rice.

Yesterday, the 29-year-old mother discovered the benefits of shopping at a neighborhood grocery store: a quick walk home carrying her bags.

"You had to catch a ride to carry all this," she said, emptying her selections onto a conveyor belt. "This here is right near home."

Rice and shoppers like her are the reason the Oliver Community Association pushed for three years to entice a grocery chain back to the site of a Super Pride which closed in 2000. Stop Shop & Save Food Markets renovated the 25,000-square-foot facility at 1600 Harford Ave. and opened its doors last month.

Raymond E. Thompson, community association president, said with three senior citizen buildings in the neighborhood, residents were desperate for a convenient place to shop.

"I've been over there practically every day since they completed it. One thing a lot of people say is it's nice and clean."

The store opened with little fanfare but few in this community just east of Green Mount Cemetery and west of Broadway could fail to notice red-and-white signs outside the store advertising fresh seafood and hot deli items.

In a vacant building where homeless squatters briefly settled, white linoleum gleams. Cashiers beckon shoppers with cordial greetings.

"Can I help you here, ma'am," a tiny checkout girl offers cheerfully.

Marlo Hargrove, 30, wears white gloves as he empties boxes onto shelves and greets supervisors with a precise, "Yes, sir!" He is the reason all the labels of brown King Syrup face forward.

He is very glad to have a job barely three blocks from home. "A five-minute walk," he said, smiling. "God is good."

Meatpackers stack tightly wrapped packages of fresh pigs' feet, 79 cents a pound, alongside 5-pound trays of ground round. A smocked employee straightens rows of items priced at $1: multipacks of toothbrushes, children's whistles, rubber gloves, party trays, pink shower curtains, and incense with pictures of Catholic saints.

From the deli, the aroma of $3.99 rotisserie chickens wafts outside into the snowy day.

"I don't want people to have to go into the county to go shopping," said the company's general manager, Ty Henschke. We want them to feel welcome here," he said, touring the store as all hands rushed to fill the shelves for grand opening festivities set for today.

The building housed a Super Pride market until the chain closed its four Baltimore stores in the fall of 2000, leaving residents in Oliver, Cherry Hill, Pimlico and Sandtown-Winchester with few shopping alternatives.

Into the Oliver store stepped locally owned Stop, Shop & Save. In 1999, Black Enterprise magazine ranked the company the nation's 36th-largest black-owned business with more than $70 million in annual sales. Founded in 1978 by Henry T. Baines, the company employs more than 600 at nine locations in the city, including nearly 70 at the Harford Avenue store.

"Mr. Baines wanted to have a bright, cheerful, safe, open feeling," said Henschke. "A lot of stores in urban areas give off that feeling of not being welcome."

To that end, Baines banished the bulletproof Plexiglass windows of the old market, the ones that had aged into yellowing opaque panels that left shoppers feeling trapped.

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