THE SHOPRITE at Bakers Centre opened just a few weeks ago, but J. Earl Brown, of Germantown, is already hooked.
"I'm addicted to your sweet-potato pie," Brown joked to store owner Jeff Brown, who shares his last name but has no relation, as he shopped yesterday. "Pathmark's gonna go out of business. I'm serious."
The sweet-potato pies that keep J. Earl Brown coming back to the Fox Street store, which held its much-anticipated grand opening Aug. 1, are a specialty item at the store, Jeff Brown said. The 72,000-square-foot supermarket, a veritable grocery mecca perched at the junction of Germantown, Nicetown and East Falls, eliminated a food desert in the underserved neighborhoods and touts scores of products based on the community's needs. For Jeff Brown, who owns 10 other ShopRites in Philly and the suburbs - many of which serve lower-income neighborhoods - the Bakers Centre store is the embodiment of his company's ideals.
"Our vision is to serve the people that others don't serve. We're really focused on people of less means," said Brown, 49, a fourth-generation grocer, as he stood in the store's gleaming produce section yesterday. "We start many years before we [open] a store, working with community groups. . . . We focus on empowerment of customers."
That means a store built from the ground up that caters specifically to what people in the neighborhood want. The ShopRite boasts a section of produce from a nearby urban farm run by Nicetown's SHARE Food Program, halal foods, products from Africa and the Caribbean, as well as hard-to-come-by conveniences like an American Heritage Credit Union branch and a health clinic staffed with nurse practitioners.
"We also look at it more holistically - what customers need in life," Brown said.
The store also brought 300 jobs to the neighborhood - not to mention numerous positions at other businesses opening in the shopping center around it, including a Ross clothing store and a Wendy's restaurant.
"I'm from the neighborhood. [The store is] very convenient for all my neighbors," said Lisa Alexander, 24, who works in ShopRite's home-delivery section and walks to work. "This is a big thing for the community."
As Brown strolled the bright, stocked-to-the-brim aisles yesterday, shopper after shopper stopped him to shake his hand, chat, make suggestions and thank him for bringing a supermarket closer to home.
"It's really good," Hank Hinton, 60, who drove to the store from Strawberry Mansion, told Brown. "You have a really diverse community around here that you have to service."
For shoppers who take public transit to the store - SEPTA added a stop at Bakers Centre to its Route 56 bus - home delivery is available for $5.95. Delivery is available citywide, Brown said.
Hinton said he shopped at Brown's location in Parkside before the Fox Street store opened, but rattled off reasons why he prefers the new store.
"It's new, big, wide, bright. The produce is good," he said. "I have a car. I can be anywhere in the city or Jersey and shop, but I come here."