In the year since Camden's Pathmark supermarket closed, leaving cashier Eunice Miller without a job, she has struggled financially, and has missed working at what she calls a central gathering place for the region.
"I'm so glad to be back," Miller, 52, of Woodlynne, said Wednesday at the grand opening of a PriceRite store as she greeted shoppers with a complimentary goody bag and a warm smile.
Those shoppers, who now have a nearby, fair-priced, produce-lush supermarket to shop in, echoed her sentiment.
Camden had been without a chain grocery for more than a year since the Pathmark on Mount Ephraim Avenue closed. PriceRite is the first supermarket to move into Camden in 40 years, officials said.
"One year ago, when Pathmark closed, it left many people doubting, could we relocate a supermarket to this same site?" Mayor Dana L. Redd said. "A promise made is a promise kept today. This project and others like it will be the catalyst for the Comeback City."
The store is owned by Ravitz Family Markets, a family-owned business in operation since 1968, which also plans to open a ShopRite in 2016 on Admiral Wilson Boulevard in Camden. Ravitz owns five ShopRite stores in Burlington and Camden Counties.
Jason Ravitz described the PriceRite store as a hybrid of Aldi and Costco, with low prices and bulk items. Shoppers bring their own bags or pay 10 cents a bag, a cost Ravitz said would go toward keeping prices low. For the first few weeks, PriceRite will give out reusable bags.
The store doesn't advertise, which also keeps food costs down.
Lanelle Griffiths, 64, was impressed with pricing and the wide aisles. "That's going to be great for our seniors," she said. Griffiths, who can walk to the store, called the produce selection expansive. "Look in my bags - all you'll see is fruits and vegetables and eggs. And coconut milk, because I can't drink the real stuff."
Wednesday's mood was celebratory, with a DJ, giveaways, and an appearance by the Phillie Phanatic, Phillies outfielder Domonic Brown, and former Eagles pro-bowler Jeremiah Trotter. The Ravitz family is a longtime sponsor of both sports teams.
The day also marked a change for Camden residents who have lived in what the USDA has termed a "food desert," due to a lack of accessible grocery stores and healthy foods.
The store hired about 100 full- and part-time workers, more than 70 percent of whom were Camden residents. The city's unemployment rate is about 17 percent.
Luis Rodriguez of North Camden now works the overnight stocking shift at PriceRite and told the crowd assembled for the ribbon-cutting that he had been looking for work for years. "It has not been easy finding work. We are all grateful to the Ravitz family," he said.
Inside the store, Tashanda Ransom helped customers in the produce section. Ransom, 27, was born and raised in North Camden, but had gone to Lindenwold for work. When she had a baby six months ago, she wanted a job closer to home. "I liked the fact that they were looking at Camden residents first," she said. "I know a lot of people still struggling to find something."
Ransom said both her 6-month-old and her 11-year-old are big fruit and vegetable lovers. "I do my job, and then I get what I need to go cook for them right here. Luckily," she said, "they have low prices."
City Council President Frank Moran lauded the Ravitzes' patience and persistence. They worked with the city for 10 years to make the supermarket happen.
PriceRite is one on a growing list of companies to announce that they will come to Camden, but is among the first to actually open its doors. "When other people were leaving the city," Moran said, "you made the decision to invest in it."