A faded sign above the former Howard Park Super Pride store was gently lifted off the dilapidated vacant building with a crane Saturday, marking the start of construction of a new, long-awaited supermarket in the city.
The Howard Park neighborhood, which is just south of Northern Parkway and borders Baltimore County to the west and the Forest Park Golf Course to the south, has been without a local grocery store for 12 years since the Super Pride was boarded up. Community leaders have worked with the city to bring back another grocer, but they've faced an uphill battle attracting developers, especially in poor economic times, while adjusting to several changes in political leadership.
"We've been overlooked," Preston Greene, president of the Howard Park Civic Association, said of the project.
"This is a community to be proud of," he said, pointing to the golf course, bike trails and attractive Victorian homes with large yards. He said he hopes the new ShopRite supermarket will not only provide residents with a more convenient place to shop but that the store will help breathe life into the aging, run-down commercial strip along Liberty Heights Avenue and the Howard Park neighborhood as a whole.
He was one of several community leaders, joined by local politicians and residents, to crowd the parking lot outside the crumbling store for a ceremony to begin demolition in preparation of the new ShopRite, which is slated to open in early 2013.
City officials hope the new store will provide a healthful, more accessible alternative for residents, who have scarce options.
"Baltimore has a lot of food deserts," said Jeffrey Brown, founder of the nonprofit UpLift Solutions Inc., which worked with officials to bring the ShopRite to the city. He said grocery stores provide a basic necessity for neighborhoods.
"The lack of good food access has a ripple affect of negative consequences," Brown said, including poor nutrition, obesity and other health problems.
Baltimore is not alone. Many urban areas struggle to attract grocery stores, but Brown said his organization has helped open 10 stores in Philadelphia. UpLift hopes to help open more stores in Baltimore, Brown said.
He said attracting grocery stores to moderate- and low-income neighborhoods can be a challenge because they aren't as financially viable, but one solution is creating public and private partnerships with stores and local governments.
In August, the owners of the Forest Hill-based Klein's Family Markets came to an agreement with the Baltimore Development Corp. to build a supermarket in the neighborhood, which will also include a pharmacy and a nurse-practitioner clinic, a full-time community relations coordinator, community meeting rooms and possibly a place for social services.
The developers will pay $2 million for the city-owned land, but the project is estimated to cost $18 million, which includes store equipment.
The Kleins operate seven ShopRite markets in Maryland but the Howard Park store will be the company's first in Baltimore. The store is expected to hire 250 employees from the area.