Nourishment For Newark’s Food Drought

By Brenda Flanagan

Applause from eager Newarkers who lined up a good hour before the new ShopRite opened. The mayor came out to celebrate.

“I don’t have to go West Orange to shop for food anymore,” Mayor Ras Baraka said. “This is a premiere supermarket that the people of this city deserve. They’ve deserved it for a very long time.”

Shoppers pushed their carts inside and goggled at the bounty filling 70,000 square feet of space. It felt like a party.

“Everybody is going to be coming here!” said shopper Claudia Williams. When asked what she thinks of the quality of the stuff, she said, “Oh, it’s very good.”

“I been waiting a long time! It’s about time that we have something close to us!” said Mary Johnson.

“There’s been lack of access to food within the city of Newark. It has been [a food desert] and we’re here to eradicate that,” said Neil Greenstein.

Greenstein is the store owner and a third generation grocer. He pointed out mounds of produce, including spring greens picked just yesterday from a local hydroponic garden.

“Coming into a supermarket, the thing you are so proud of is the fresh fruit and vegetables and the opportunity to have affordable quality products at your fingertips,” Greenstein said.

An on-site dietitian offers advice on nutrition and will help clients shop. Spacious aisles feature specialty cuisines — including Halal and
Kosher sections.

“You have people from different flavors, different walks, who come in here and they want what they like, so we’re trying to make sure that they have it,” said Deli worker Andrew Barnett.

A particular hallmark of this supermarket is the fact that it’s Newark-centric. Local school kids helped color the mural and 60 percent of its 350 workers call Brick City home, including produce guy Donald Douglas.

“I’m glad ShopRite is in Newark to give lots of us brothers jobs and the opportunity to show these kids that there’s more things to do in life besides being in the streets,” he said.

The ShopRite anchors a larger complex built by by Tucker Development. It includes 152 market-rate apartments and retail spaces — including a couple of fast food restaurants that one councilwoman deplores as unsuitable.

“We are very concerned about choices of fast food restaurants in our community, and the community is still not very happy with that issue. So we are going to be addressing that with Mr. Tucker’s development,” said Newark Councilwoman Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins.

The compex rises from beleaguered Springfield Avenue. Newark has several other supermarkets, but nothing this grand, says Rutgers Business School professor Jeff Robinson.

This is a prime example of what other cities need to be doing. It’s a source of jobs and it’s a large employer. It’s a place where you can find what you need in the community. This is a home run,” Robinson said.

The new ShopRite is a showplace with a 20-year lease. They expect to make a profit, but the mayor says it’s not just about business, it’s about community.