In hazy sunshine yesterday morning, dozens of East Germantown residents stood in front of the new, green-and-white Fresh Grocer store, waiting for the doors to finally open.
"I'm so glad," said Gertrude Heath, 69, her empty cart nearby. Soon, it would be filled with cases of soda, paper towels, and other necessities for a family barbecue.
For years, Heath said, she has traveled 20 minutes by bus to a ShopRite on Fifth Street. Now, she can walk to the Fresh Grocer, on Chew Avenue between Church Lane and Wister Street, which she said was "going to do a lot for the community."
In this part of East Germantown, there hasn't been a supermarket since "forever," said Barbara Williams, 63, a longtime resident.
Williams said she and her sister typically drive to Chestnut Hill to shop because her neighborhood has few options for quality food.
"It will give you a store to go to outside of these mom-and-pops," she said, referring to the area's many pizza shops, fast-food take-outs, and mini-markets.
It has been 40 years since the community, which the neighbors call Somerville, has had a supermarket, according to local elected officials. The nearest one is eight blocks away, far for those without cars.
The grocery store anchors the Shoppes at La Salle, a $15 million retail center built by Moreland Development on La Salle university's former athletic field.
The $13.5 million, 50,000-square-foot Fresh Grocer was financed with the help of a $4 million grant Moreland received from the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative, a public-private partnership to increase the number of supermarkets in underserved communities across Pennsylvania.
"The community now has a great supermarket to enjoy," said Brother Michael McGinniss, president of La Salle University, who grew up in Olney. "It's a testimony to common effort."
The inside is spacious, bright, and green. The store has 40,000 food products and comes with a sushi bar, salad bar, soup bar, brick oven for pizza, deli, hot-food station, bakery, and café with fresh-brewed coffee. Upstairs is an eating area with a 52-inch television.
"It's wonderful. It's fabulous," said Oronica Fields, 44, who grew up in the area. Once every two months, Fields said, she has traveled to the Fresh Grocer in Drexel Hill to shop. "Down the street vs. down the road?" she said. "I will definitely be shopping here."
Shoppers used such words as fresh, clean, pretty, and big to describe the new market.
It is Fresh Grocer's sixth store in Philadelphia; the company was started in 1996. The next is expected to open in Progress Plaza, Broad and Oxford Streets, in December.
"We want to build stores in underserved portions of Philadelphia," said Grant McLoughlin, vice president of Fresh Grocer. "It's kind of hand-in-hand with the community."
McLoughlin said that in addition to providing "good, nutritious food choices," the store created more than 250 full-time and part-time jobs. Ninety percent of the employees live in the city; of those, 60 percent are from neighborhoods surrounding the store.
Kenneth Peel, who said he had been laid off for four months, called his new job "a blessing." Peel works full-time in the hot-food area, yesterday attending to a buffet of salmon, chicken, and vegetables.
"I'm glad to be working again, and be so close to home. This is a good deed in the community, and I'm proud to say I'm a part of it," he said.
Flipping through circulars advertising discounts on bottled water, ice cream, and russet potatoes, several shoppers said that ultimately, the store's success will depend on its pricing. In a tough economy, many said, they are still prepared to travel outside the neighborhood not only for quality food, but to save a few dollars.
"I'm a bargain shopper," said Farrah Cross, 39, moving down an aisle, her husband and parents in tow. With a car, she says, "I have options. Other people don't."
Edna Heidelberg, who lives across the street, spent yesterday morning wandering the aisles, browsing and comparing.
"It's convenient," she said of the new Fresh Grocer, "but you don't mind paying a little bit more if it's quality food. As far as the freshness, so far, this store has it right."