Fresh Grocer will close its University City location next month after losing a nearly four-year-legal battle with the University of Pennsylvania.
The fight began in April 2016, when Penn — the store’s landlord — said the neighborhood staple did not renew its lease in “a timely fashion,” and terminated the lease. Penn asked Fresh Grocer to leave by the time the lease was set to expire, in March 2017.
But in December 2016, Fresh Grocer sued the university, saying it wrongfully terminated the lease. The suit was ultimately unsuccessful.
The store said it would place employees of its West Philadelphia location, which has been open since 2001, at other local outposts, and no workers will lose jobs.
“With the forthcoming closing of the Fresh Grocer’s 40th and Walnut Streets location, we remain committed to the community and look forward to providing a first-class supermarket experience and source of local employment via our other nearby Fresh Grocer locations,” Karen O’Shea, Fresh Grocer spokesperson, said in a news release.
Penn did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The university has not confirmed a new tenant after Fresh Grocer closes.
After Fresh Grocer closes, the closest full-service supermarket to the store site will be Supremo Food Market at 43rd and Walnut Streets. An Aldi is at 46th and Market.
The distance between grocery stores highlights the problem of food deserts in Philadelphia. The Department of Agriculture says neighborhoods where many residents live a half-mile or more from a supermarket are areas of concern.
While Center City has less of a problem, with access to larger supermarkets, many of the communities that border the Schuylkill and the Delaware River are areas of concern, according to the Department of Agriculture.
Although the Fresh Grocer site does not fall into one of these food deserts, it sits three blocks from the edge of one that encompasses a large section of the city west of the Schuylkill.
Though full-service supermarkets are at a premium in Philadelphia, small-scale grocery stores are on the rise. Giant has three relatively new mini stores in the city, including one in University City, called Giant Heirloom Markets. These smaller storefronts are designed to fit in compact urban environments.
Southwest Center City and Northern Liberties also have Heirlooms, and the company plans to add one in Queen Village.
Fresh Grocer has six other stores in the city. O’Shea said that the company is partnering with Lyft to offer free rides home to customers who shop at the store’s other locations.
“The University of Pennsylvania has acknowledged our willingness to open a supermarket in University City in 2001 at a time when many other operators were unwilling to take that risk,” O’Shea said.