Lawnside has a supermarket again, and hope for jobs

Kim Knows and her mother , Donna Knows, from Blackwood, leave the new Lawnside ShopRite with a heavily loaded cart and smiles. AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer
Kim Knows and her mother , Donna Knows, from Blackwood, leave the new Lawnside ShopRite with a heavily loaded cart and smiles. AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer
Posted: July 16, 2013

Cornflakes. Tuna. Paper towels. Tea.

A trip to the supermarket is rarely a thrill.

But try going 15 months without one nearby - especially if you don't drive - and you'll understand the excitement and crowds that greeted Sunday's opening of the new ShopRite in Lawnside.

"I'm overwhelmed," Audrey Gorman, 75, shouted over the din near the seafood counter, where cleaned squid was selling for $7.99 a pound.

The variety of products across the 56,000-square-foot market was "amazing," the Barrington resident exclaimed, but the aisles were so crowded she was having a hard time navigating in her motorized cart.

"So I'm mostly just browsing," she said. "I'll come back during the week."

Five hours earlier, at 8 a.m., the doors had swung open after a ribbon-cutting ceremony to admit a line of eager shoppers that extended across the front of the store and down the side.

At the head of the line was Darlene Harley of Pennsauken, who spent part of the night in the parking lot, sleeping in her car, before planting herself in a lawn chair at the front door around 5 a.m. to make sure she was first inside.

"It was like she was waiting to get into a concert," marveled Jaclyn Goldsmith, the store's community relations manager and catering coordinator, "so we gave her a gift basket."

The store, in the Lawnside Shopping Center on the White Horse Pike, had been home for four decades to a Pathmark, part of the A&P chain that also operates Superfresh, Waldbaum's, and four other supermarket brands.

It closed in April 2012, obliging many residents of this working-class town, as well as their neighbors in Haddon Township, Haddon Heights, Barrington, Somerdale, and Magnolia, to find someplace else.

Many said Sunday that they had turned to the Acme in Runnemede, the Walmart in Somerdale, or farther-flung ShopRites. But for people like 73-year-old Joyce Crawford of Magnolia, the return of a supermarket close to home was a "godsend."

"I'm a heart patient," she explained, as she loaded groceries into her car at midafternoon. "This is so close I can walk."

The new store is the second one owned by David and Renee Zallie, who own the ShopRite in Medford.

His Somerset Stores L.L.C. is named, he said, for the little grocery his father, George Zallie, opened at Somerset and Gaul Streets in Philadelphia in 1959.

George Zallie went on to own five ShopRites, which Zallie and his brothers took over after his death two years ago.

Despite the demographic and ethnic differences in the towns that the new store will serve, he said, his new store is similar to most of the approximately 250 others that dot the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states.

"ShopRites are very good at appealing to a wide customer base," said Zallie, but he has added a sit-down cafe with wi-fi and a smokehouse in the butcher department that smokes its own hams, poultry, and sausage. "It was a big investment," he said. "But I think it will catch on."

Shoppers were not the only occupants of the new store voicing gratitude Sunday. Lawnside and its neighbors have been hard-hit by the recession, and Zallie's company received more than 850 job applications this spring.

It has hired and trained about 265 full- and part-time workers, said Phil Solomon, who coordinates hiring for the Wakefern Food Corp., the cooperative that operates ShopRite markets.

Many of those hired for the Lawnside store got several weeks of training at Zallie's Medford store, he said.

"I feel wonderful," said 21-year-old Dani Williams, who was wearing a green ShopRite T-shirt and a name tag. Although she was spending the day "helping people find things," Williams, who attends Camden County Community College, said she had been hired in the store's pharmacy because she hopes to have a career in the field.

"They're putting me through a lot of training," she said.

By 3 p.m., the place was still so crowded that managers created a single queue to the checkout counters that ran across the store and was 28 carts long.

"Oh, my God," said Dusty Shoemaker, 58, of Laurel Springs, as she pushed her cart to its end. "Look at this line."

But she and her 38-year-old daughter, Jamie Weidler, also of Laurel Springs, had no complaints.

Both have had gastric bypass surgery to reduce weight - "I was nearly 400 pounds," Weidler said - and they were "thrilled," she said, to have met the store's resident dietitian, who, they discovered, charges no fee for nutritional counseling.

"So we made an appointment," Shoemaker said. "I can't wait to come back."

Contact David O'Reilly at 856-779-3841 or or @doreillyinq on Twitter.

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