After more than five years without a grocery store, the city of Clairton is one step closer to having one.
According to Clairton City Councilman Richard Ford, the body—thanks to a 5-0 vote at its April regular meeting—gave the green light for a Save-A-Lot grocery store on the former Blair Heights Housing Project property along state route 837 near Chambers and Frances Streets and Maple Avenue in the city’s second ward.
|MISSION ACCOMPLISHED—Richard Ford, Clairton city councilman, left, and Gil Berry, one of the owner operators of the new store, pose in front of the sign for the new store on route 837. (Photo by J.L. Martello)
“We’ve been trying to bring a grocery store to Clairton for the past six years. We thought we were pretty close three or four years ago,” said Ford who has been fighting for the store since Maraccini’s Grocery store left the city eight years ago.
Maraccini went out of business because the owners grew older and no one wanted to take it over, according to Ford.
Since the store’s closing, the 6,796 residents of Clairton—28 to 29 percent which are African-American—have been buying groceries at stores in surrounding towns like Glassport, Pleasant Hills, McKeesport, Elizabeth and West Mifflin either via jitney or bus.
The 15,500 square-foot store will have 65 parking spaces and will cover part of the 6.03 acre tract of land that is owned by Gilbert Berry and Jeffery Smith, partners at Sierra Development, LLC located in Ohio.
According to Ford, the property was purchased for $100,000 last year from the Allegheny County Housing Authority. Sierra Development still needs $2 million for site preparation and store construction.
Ford said Berry and Smith received a franchise agreement from Save-A-Lot allowing them to own and run the store independently. Sierra Development, LLC did not return New Pittsburgh Courier calls.
“We’re looking at the possibility of putting other businesses on the property like a training facility that will teach under-privileged people how to build energy-efficient roofs,” Ford said. “We are real close to looking at a date to break ground. Sierra Development is doing fundraising with the commonwealth, the county and major corporations to see what kind of financial help they can get to build the store.”
Ford said some kind of transportation will be available for people to get to and from Save-A-Lot.
“We will have to develop the transportation, but they will be able to get there and get their groceries home, there’s no doubt about it,” Ford said.
Save-A-Lot isn’t the first grocery store to express an interest in Clairton.
“There had been some concerns about putting a grocery store on the hill of Clairton, but that would’ve required tearing down 13 buildings (on St. Clair in the business district) some of which were active businesses and those business owners were not ready to sell, It was a different company, but they’ve dropped out of the race. That would’ve taken several years to facilitate but the citizens wanted a grocery store now so Sierra came in over a year ago and showed an interest in the Blair Heights property,” Ford said.
A grocery store was one of the top priorities on the city’s comprehensive plan that was done by a unity group comprised of Clairton citizens whose main objective was to address the city’s problems and fix them.
“I really wanted to see something positive come to the Blair Heights property after the projects were torn down in 2001,” said Ford who lived in Blair Heights—a 12-building 144 unit housing project—throughout his childhood. “We wanted whatever it was to help the community. I’m very hopeful and excited about Save-A-Lot,” Ford said.