HAMILTON HEIGHTS – When Pete’s Shur Save grocery store packed its bags and moved to University City in December 2016, it left a void beyond another vacant lot at Page and Union boulevards in the Hamilton Heights neighborhood.
Pete’s exit rendered the neighborhood a food desert. Area residents who relied on the popular independent grocer, known for its selection of meats, poultry and African-American fare, were left with no close source of those groceries.
On Wednesday about 10:30 a.m., that changed when discount grocer Sav A Lot opened its doors at 1301 Union Blvd., where Pete’s once was.
“I love it. It’s close. It’s convenient,” said Josephine Alexander, who walked to the store Wednesday with her niece, Ebony Fulton.
The convenience of a full-service grocer in walking distance is something she and others can sink their teeth into. Alexander and Fulton don’t have cars and rely on public transportation. Either way, Alexander likes to walk to the grocery store.
“We needed a grocery store in this community,” Alexander said, explaining that the nearest grocer was a little more than a mile away, though she still hops on the bus to make her way to Pete’s on occasion.
Many others in the neighborhood also miss Pete’s and appreciate having the new Sav A Lot store.
“It was messed up when Pete’s closed,” said Bang Harris, who was among the first shoppers into the store after a ribbon-cutting ceremony with benefactors, politicians and supporters.
“We are no longer standing in a food desert,” said 26th Ward Alderman Shameem Clark-Hubbard, calling up her predecessor, Frank Williamson, who had the seat when the store was first planned.
They both worked with the grocer in bearing the fruit of labor.
“When they first came to the community with this project, it was rejected by community members who are in the audience today, so that speaks to the transition that not only Sav A Lot went through, but what we went through collectively to bring this store to fruition,” Clark-Hubbard said.
The alderwoman said she liked the way in which Sav A Lot executives dealt with the public and officials, from answering calls and networking to attending ward meetings.
“They worked with us, and I can appreciate that,” Clark-Hubbard said, turning toward Sav A Lot staffers. “So we are committed to working with you as much as you all have worked with us.”
Along with employing blacks in the finishing phase of the building process, about 40 people from the surrounding area were hired to work at the store.
“We hired people of color who needed jobs, and it adds to the city’s earnings tax; and that’s something to feel good about, personally and professionally,” said Don Cross, assistant store manager, who lives in The Ville.
Between employees’ asking him questions, he said that not all of corporate America was running from the north side.
“This shows that they have a symbiotic relationship with the community,” he said.
Sav A Lot also presented $1,500 checks to Better Family Life Inc. and the Monsanto YMCA.
Malik Ahmed, founder of BFL, 5415 Page Blvd., responded, “We are committed to helping to get people into this store so that you will be successful, but we also want you to be successful with working with community organizations on the ground, and we will hold your feet to the fire to that respect.”
Ahmed said he had hoped the financial gift to BFL would have been more.
Marcus Wilson, executive director of the Monsanto YMCA, a few blocks west at 5555 Page Blvd., said the store had helped with the Y’s annual back-to-school event, which donated supplies and served healthy meals to more than 2,000 students.
“I just love to see the collaboration and remind everybody that we are always stronger together,” Wilson said.
Also in attendance were area politicians: Sen. Karla May (D-4th Dist.), Rep. Wiley Price IV (D-84th Dist.), Mayor Lyda Krewson and 22nd Ward Alderman Jeffrey Boyd.
Krewson praised the combined efforts to restore life to the neighborhood food desert.
“So many folks came together to create the environment here on this corner,” she said. “And I think it is going to be tremendous for the entire neighborhood for miles around who will come here and make Sav A Lot their grocery store of choice.”
For Keyonna Harris, who lives nearby, it’s now both her store of choice and her place of employment. She remembers going to Pete’s when she was a little girl. She said that it was hectic when the store left and that she was glad the Sav A Lot was there now.
“We needed it, especially with Pete’s being gone,” she said, adding, “It feels great to be working in my community for my community.”