First full service grocery in 30 years. Will history repeat itself?

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ULISH CARTER

 There’s a new SHOP ‘n SAVE full service grocery store in the Hill District for the first time in 30 years. But despite all the celebrating going on now the big question is, will this store continue to be a beacon of light for the Hill and other Black communities throughout the country 10 years from now?

First let’s give out kudos and congratulations to all the people who worked so very hard to get this store in the Hill. Especially Evan Frazier and the Hill House, and Carl Redwood, the URA, Mayor Ravenstahl, Jake Wheatley, Sala Udin and many, many more.

There were several people who fought for this against all kinds of barriers which were thrown in front of them, and there was a lot of in fighting but in the long run they didn’t settle for a Save A Lot, but held out for a full service grocery store which a community the size of the Hill deserves. And I’m just sorry the decision makers at Giant Eagle didn’t understand how important this store is, or some of the big money athletes in this city or this county that didn’t step forward to put up the money for this grocery. But once again it was done without them.

There are celebrations all over the Hill District in support of this store as well as other neighboring communities, which will no longer have to go way out of their way to shop at a store with competitive prices instead of the little smallmom and pop stores and their high prices.

This store is not just important to the Hill District, but if this store is successful in the Hill it serves as an guiding light to the rest of the country that major businesses can be put in the middle of a Black community and be successful.

Another difference in the Hill District today compared to when the Phoenix Hill Mall opened is that the Hill is no longer made up of just low income and Public Housing communities wrapped around Sugar Top. With the Crawford developments, practically the entire lower Hill now is middle income with a solid mixture of high cost rentals as well as home ownership of $130,000 to $200,000 homes, added to the middle Hill which is also composed of mostly middle to low income people. Gone is most of the Public Housing, with units either mixed in with the new housing or moved out of the community. So there are more people in the community with money, and more working people who know how important a grocery store and other businesses are.

Why do I say the real success or failure of this venture will not be known until 10 years down the road? Look at all the fanfare that went on when the August Wilson Center for African American Culture opened, and now look where it is.

I remember very vividly the grand opening of the Phoenix Hill Mall, with the Hicks family who had a small grocery store in the Hill almost all their lives. But then they ventured out to open a full service SHOP ‘n SAVE store in the Hill and everyone was so proud, so glad, it was so great for the neighborhood.

But it went under in a short period of time because the community people robbed it blind, the employees robbed it blind and it never really got the kind of financial or community support it should have gotten from the Black community and leaders, not only in the Hill District but throughout the city. We have no problem traveling for miles to shop in Robinson Township, Century Three, Monroeville, or the many other malls as well as Sam’s’ Club or Cost Go. But how many of us are going to go out of our way to support this store, after the novelty wares off.

I think this story will be different because of the higher income people now living in the Hill. I think it will be successful because other major stores are now successful in Black communities. The Giant Eagle on Cedar Avenue on the North Side, or the one in East Hills. The Kuhn’s’ on the North Side, the Family Dollars which are springing up in Black communities all over, as well as some of the Rite Aid Pharmacies. Black communities are proving that businesses can survive without the constant theft, and robberies, which have occurred in the past.

Hopefully the young people will understand, and the older people will continue to teach that no community can grow without businesses in them. Most of the people employed in the Hill SHOP ‘n SAVE are from the Hill community. Most of the people hired at the Family Dollars in our communities are from our communities, so if we are going to grow and prosper as a people or as a community we must have jobs, and we shouldn’t have to leave our communities for jobs, and businesses like the grocery helps.

Well I know some will say these are not high paying jobs. Well, I don’t hear White folks complaining about all those low paying jobs they have in the malls out in the suburbs. Plus, if these people could find better paying jobs then they would have them. A job is a job.

These jobs help keep food on the table, roofs over our heads and clothes on our backs. If you want to generate pride in a man or woman just give them a job so they don’t have to beg for handouts. As quiet as it’s kept, most people are not satisfied with welfare they would rather be working, as the long line of applicants for these jobs proves.

No I don’t think the Phoenix Hill mall history will be repeated. I don’t think the AWC disaster will be repeated, because there was more planning done on this venture than the others, and we as a people have grown over the years. I so desperately hope.

(Ulish Carter is the managing editor of the New Pittsburgh Courier.)

 

 

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