It was made possible by a change in city zoning law, facilitated by Councilwoman Joan Krajewski, that allowed the former industrial plot to be rebuilt from scratch by developer Peter Abrams of Abrams Realty Development.
Grocery clerks had warned that the change would give a nonunion chain an unfair advantage in a city where all other major supermarket chains are unionized.
The new store reflects Giant's desire to challenge ShopRite and Acme Markets for sales dominance in the region. Fast-advancing Giant is in third place, according to an industry survey that found Acme had been dethroned by ShopRite in the last year.
"I think they have completely filled in the blanks in Montgomery, Bucks, Chester, and Delaware Counties," said Abrams, who found the site for Giant and secured the approvals and $32 million in financing for his portion of the project during the last two years.
With so many stores in the suburbs, "the next logical jump for them, in terms of their distribution, their advertising, everything, was into Northeast Philadelphia," he said.
The timing was propitious for a move into a city long perceived as home turf to old-name supermarket chains whose corporate parents are either in bankruptcy or too financially strained to expand or renovate stores.
"Acme has taken a step back. Genuardi's has taken a step back," Abrams said. "Everybody's taking a step back except ShopRite."
The Grant Avenue location will be the eighth new Giant store in Southeastern Pennsylvania since 2008, said company spokesman Chris Brand.
"This is a market that we have been interested in for some time," Brand said, declining to say whether the company planned to add more locations in the city.
The Grant Avenue store is on a parcel so large it constitutes the biggest redevelopment project in years in Krajewski's otherwise densely developed district, said Linda Lawrence, an aide who handles zoning matters for the councilwoman.
"We're very excited over it," Lawrence said Thursday. "I think it's a beautiful shopping center. It brings in much-needed jobs into that area. We're all very excited."
Not so excited, however, is the United Food and Commercial Workers union, whose members are clerks, meat cutters, and other workers at Acme, ShopRite, Pathmark, and Super Fresh, the grocery chains most at risk by Giant's arrival, said Wendell Young IV, president of Local 1776. It urged Krajewski to block the development.
"Within the first year, this will cause some of those supermarkets to close," Young said. "And the jobs that are going to be lost are going to be the longer-term jobs, the senior people who make the better wages and benefits. They're the jobs that are going to be replaced by low-wage jobs."
UFCW got no support from the building-trades union, led by Pat Gillespie, who urged Krajewski to support the zoning change, Young said.
"They've had unemployment in some of the trades as high as 85 percent over the past three years," he said. "We understand that they need to work. My opinion is let's get something that fits into the community vs. something that hurts the community. My members want to work, too."
Contact staff writer Maria Panaritis at 215-854-2431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.