By JOHN KOPP
CHESTER — Having gone years without a full-fledged supermarket, Chester residents soon will have increased access to healthy food options thanks to the openings of a pair of grocery stores in the coming months.
Soloff Realty and Development Inc. will break ground Friday on a Bottom Dollar Food store, the city’s first for-profit grocery store in more than a decade. The store is expected to open in early 2014.
Philabundance will debut a nonprofit grocery store, dubbed Fare and Square, in September. The nonprofit organization launched a five-week service industry training course for potential employees Monday at City Hall.
“I really am excited,” Mayor John Linder said. “At one time, we didn’t have any shopping markets here in the city. We’ve been really trying to push and move that agenda forward. It looks like we’re going to get two — one for-profit and one nonprofit.”
Linder said the markets not only increase residents’ access to fresh fruits and vegetables, but also provide jobs. He said Bottom Dollar will complement an area that includes Widener University, Crozer-Chester Medical Center and several residential complexes.
“It’s going to be a welcome sight to that area and to the city of Chester,” Linder said.
Bottom Dollar, a soft-discount grocer, will be open seven days per week and is expected to provide 40-50 jobs. The 18,074-square-foot store will sit on the northwestern corner of Edgmont Avenue and 15th Street. Bottom Dollar is developing the project without the use of public money or tax exemptions, an aspect that has drawn praise from city officials.
“It’s great to see that there’s outside investors coming in to seize the opportunity here in Chester,” said Jackie Parker, executive director of the Chester Economic Development Authority. “I’m hoping that will be a sign that there will be more investment in the city, built upon this success.”
Richard Soloff, president of developer Soloff Realty, was unavailable for comment, but released a statement deeming Bottom Dollar a “tremendous addition” to the city.
“I look forward to completing this project so Bottom Dollar can bring the residents of Chester the convenience and variety of fresh, healthy food,” Soloff’s statement said.
That accessibility also will be increased by the opening of Fare and Square on the city’s West End.
Philabundance, the largest hunger relief organization in the Delaware Valley, is constructing a 13,000-square-foot store at Ninth Street and Trainer Avenue. The store will provide 40-50 full- and part-time jobs, including management positions.
More than 70 people came to City Hall Monday to participate in a free, five-week service industry training program. Employment is not guaranteed, but the participants will gain training in customer service, life skills, finances, safe food handling and computers.
The five-week course is an adaptation of Philabundance’s Community Kitchen program, a 15-week vocational skills training program.
“If Chester is going to be attractive to businesses, the human capital has to expand,” said organizational trainer Shontae Graham, who has overseen such programs at Philabundance for nine years.
If Philabundance does not hire the participants, the skills they gain from the program will make them attractive to other service organizations, Graham said.
“They get out of it what they put in,” Graham said.
DiNita Fryer Jones was among the residents who came out for the first day of training. She said she was considering applying for a managerial position to supplement her income as an independent consultant. A city resident, Fryer Jones said she was impressed by Philabundance’s desire to open a grocery store in Chester, long considered one of the nation’s most vast food deserts.
“I think it’s a beautiful thing,” Fryer Jones said. “That makes them a plus. That makes me want to know more about them.”
Cathy Doherty, Philabundance director of human resources, said residents can enroll in the free program through Wednesday.
“People seem interested,” Doherty said. “A lot of people showed up early, so that shows a lot of interest and enthusiasm.”