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Two groceries are headed to Chester

Philadelphia Inquirer

Kathy Boccella, Inquirer Staff Writer

After a decade with no supermarket, making it one of the nation’s most parched food deserts, Chester will soon have two.

Groundbreaking for a Bottom Dollar is scheduled for Friday, while construction on Philabundance’s Fare & Square, halted for most of July because of changes in the configuration, is ready to resume Monday.

We’re back flowing, full speed ahead; all is going well,” said Paul Messina, managing director of Fare & Square, at Ninth and Trainer Streets, the site of Chester’s last supermarket, a Shop n Bag that closed in 1998.

The project was delayed because of some problems with Family Dollar, which shares its 21,000-square-foot space. The supermarket, which takes up 14,000 square feet, had to be configured from a traditional square space to one that is long and narrow.

“It made it a bit more of a challenge,” Messina said, “but I feel we’ve come up with a really, really good layout that is very shopable and flows nicely.”

Opening will be late September.

While the store will carry traditional products, its focus will be on healthy foods from area producers.

Messina said the store plans to buy local produce as much as possible and has already teamed up with some local vendors, such as Buono Bros., a Chester bread company.

Meanwhile, about 70 people have enrolled in Philabundance’s five-week industry training course, said Cathy Doherty, who runs the program. The course is for a variety of industries, but graduates “will learn what they need to know in order to be great applicants” for supermarket jobs, she said.

Philabundance has already hired several managers but plans to hire from 35 to 50 workers who will be paid $8 to $9 an hour with bonuses and differential for working weekends and holidays. After a few years, workers can expect to earn $11 to $12 an hour, Doherty said.

As a nonprofit grocery, “we need to keep our prices low and at the same time employ as many people as we can,” she said.

Philabundance is also holding events to get people to sign up for free memberships.

Not far from Fare & Square, the Bottom Dollar market will occupy an 18,074-square-foot building on the northwestern corner of Edgmont Avenue and 15th Street.

Groundbreaking is 11 a.m. Friday and construction is expected to continue through early 2014, spokeswoman Christy Phillips-Brown said. Forty to 50 people are expected to be hired.

The store is part of a discount grocer with 38 stores in the Philadelphia area. The developer of the property is Richard Soloff.

Jacqueline Parker, executive director of the Chester Economic Development Authority, said the fact that the new Bottom Dollar was privately funded proves that “there are viable opportunities for investment in the city of Chester.”

The bigger picture, she said, “shows that momentum can build for other types of development, not necessarily a supermarket, but other retail endeavors.”

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