Shopping For A Good City Supermarket

Posted: December 30, 1986

When it comes to stocking the family larder, Barbara Gorenstein, substitute teacher, does not so much shop as forage.

"I keep my money and my coupons and my shopping list in my purse at all times, and I shop whenever I see a market near the school I happen to be teaching at," said Gorenstein, who lives in Franklintown. "I have no real loyalty. All I need is a market and a parking spot."

Such shopping strategies are not uncommon in a city that, before October, hadn't witnessed the grand opening of a supermarket in its core for 20 years.

Gorenstein said that on a recent Sunday morning while driving in Society Hill, she spotted an empty space near the Super Fresh Food Market at Fifth and Spruce Streets and pulled into it without thinking twice.

"My daughter looked at me and said, 'Mom, do you need anything?' I said, 'I don't know that I do, but I saw that spot and I wanted it.' We sat in the car in hysterics. That is how you think when you live in Center City."

Some city dwellers have adapted to the supermarket shortage by learning to graze - buying a little bit here, a little bit there. Others acquire freezers and try to limit their shopping excursions to once a month. Some trek to the suburbs. Some give up cooking.

For all the above, relief may be on the way. The city supermarket appears to be staging a comeback.

Old stores are sprucing up, installing salad bars and stocking up on decaffeinated swiss almond coffee beans, roasted trail mix and other staples of a younger, busier and wealthier clientele..

"I cater to the neighborhood," said Mike Hallinan, who manages the Thriftway Shop Smart at 48th and Pine Streets, which his family has owned for 11 years. "The neighborhood has been changing as the university pushes up. We stock health foods and gourmet foods for the Penn students, a lot of different fresh produce for the Vietnamese residents, and we offer perishables that our black clientele like at a fair price."

Last month, Hallinan's father, John Hallinan Sr., opened another Thriftway at 15th and Spruce Streets in a family-owned building previously leased to an Acme. "This was a very big move for our family, and I can assure you we're going to be there for a long time," Mike Hallinan said.

Other new stores are being planned on sites yet to be developed. The bad news here is that even those residents who agree that there is a real need for additional supermarkets in the city are loathe to see one plunked down in their particular back yards.

Take Barbara Gorenstein, the floating marketer. She is one of many residents of Hamilton Court in Franklintown who are fighting plans for a new Super Fresh at 19th and Hamilton Streets.

The supermarket is the anchor of a proposed $9 million project, to be developed by Super Fresh and the British-based Wiltshier Development Corp., that would include a Thrift Drug, possibly a bank branch, at least eight other stores and underground parking for 160 cars.

Residents argue that the development, which some refer to as a minimall, would increase traffic beyond reasonable limits, create severe parking problems and overly commercialize their residential neighborhood.

The land on which it would be built is zoned for a mix of residential and commercial uses; the current plan would require a zoning variance and approval by the Redevelopment Authority because the site falls within an official urban renewal area.

"Everybody says, 'We need a supermarket around here. Let's drop it in somebody else's back yard,' " said Keith Wapner, a leader in the fight to keep Super Fresh out of Franklintown. "Well, this is our back yard, and we object to it, because it takes a neighborhood that is supposedly zoned residential, a neighborhood that we moved into and invested in, and it changes its character."

Wapner, who said he travels to shop at the Super Fresh at Fifth and Spruce Streets, with frequent dashes to a nearby Wawa in between, said the area that includes Franklintown, Spring Garden and Fairmount could use a supermarket, ''but it should be put into a site that is already zoned commercial."

The City Planning Commission has not yet developed a formal position on the matter, according to commission spokesman Warren Huff, who owns a portable wire shopping cart and has often hauled groceries 10 blocks in it.

"There was considerable neighborhood opposition to the proposed market in Franklintown," said Huff, "and we remain concerned about the appropriateness of that use for the site.

"There's a general interest in that area to have a supermarket close by, and there is a general need," Huff said. "The obverse is that the closest neighborhood would be the most impacted by that use."

Such dilemmas are likely to face more and more city residents as the three biggest chains in the region - Pathmark, Acme and Super Fresh - which expanded into the suburbs when land there was cheap and the outlook for urban revitalization grim, turn their attention once again to Philadelphia.

Pathmark is seeking additional sites in the city, according to a spokesman for the corporation.

The Acme at 10th and Reed Streets, bowing to the modern, boutique approach to food shopping, recently put in a cheese island and a flower market.

The Super Fresh at 10th and South Streets - whose debut Oct. 15 represented the first opening of a new supermarket in the city's core in two decades - offers frazzled urbanites such soothing amenities as free parking for two hours and a conveyor belt that whisks groceries out to a parcel pickup spot in back. There, the groceries are loaded into cars by an employee who stands beneath a sign that warns "no tipping."

"Before this place opened, we'd get in the car and go to the suburbs for our bulk stuff. It was definitely an inconvenience," said Gene Fedors of Fitler Square as he and Marian Grimaldi did their marketing at the South Street Super Fresh.

Fedors and Grimaldi previously did a lot of their shopping in small specialty shops. "We've each made half a dozen stops for a dinner sometimes," said Fedors. "This store is very complete, and I think we'll be coming here quite a bit."

On her first visit to the new Super Fresh last week, saleswoman Robin Davidson, 27, of Washington Square, said, "It's a nuisance to live in town and have to go to several different places. I usually go to Famous for my deli, and the Reading Terminal for produce, and a supermarket for the basics. But this place seems to have everything. When you grow up in the suburbs, you get used to having a lot of variety in your supermarket."

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