Jeff Brown and his ShopRites help restore communities
(Left): Jeff Brown of ShopRite leads a community meeting at Dobbins High School. Brown discusses the opening of a new ShopRite in North Philadelphia. Sarah J. Glover/photographer
I live in what’s called a food desert. That means if you see a store stocked with fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and other nutritious foods—it’s a mirage.
Residents of my area of North Philadelphia, just above East Falls, travel to supermarkets in Germantown, in Roxborough, on City Avenue or further into North Philadelphia for such goodies. Others subsist on the canned foods, cellophane-wrapped snacks and soda from the corner store.
So excuse me while I sing the praises of Jeff Brown, CEO and president of Brown’s Super Stores, on the state-of-the-art ShopRite due to open in my area this August. We eagerly await the opening of the 71,000-square-foot store—which will anchor Bakers Centre at the old TastyKake site at Fox Street, Hunting Park Avenue and Roberts Avenue.
Whereas some businesses preface store openings with banners and balloons, Brown and his nonprofit Uplift Solutions Inc. introduced themselves through a community-wide meeting.
Uplift set out to draw 1,000 community residents to that meeting on Jan. 31 at Murrell Dobbins CTE High School on Lehigh Avenue. More than 1,200 attended.
They packed the auditorium to see a presentation moderated by Brown himself and to meet the management team, hear about hiring practices and learn about the future store’s health clinic, community rooms, halal butcher and on-site dietician.
Fourth District Councilman Curtis Jones joked that he was at the meeting to “start the ‘Jeff Brown for Mayor’ campaign.”
You have to hand it to Brown for his vision. He sees something in neighborhoods like mine where so many others see nothing.
It’s almost as if he’s in business not to make money but to transform.
With 10 other area stores that include locations in Haverford and Parkside, Brown is part of Pennsylvania’s Fresh Food Financing Initiative (FFFI), which matches state and private money to improve access to healthy, affordable food. Certainly, his efforts have benefited from grants such as the one for $12 million that state Sen. Vincent Hughes, the Democratic chair of the state Senate’s appropriations committee, helped secure for Bakers Centre through the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program.
But Brown finds partners everywhere, which I saw for myself in meetings. Uplift pulled together groups from Nicetown-Tioga, Allegheny West, North Philadelphia and Ridge-Allegheny Hunting Park to plan for the community meeting. Before long, the groups had assembled their own resume-writing and job-preparation workshops.
Raj Lewis, community liaison for Uplift, explained that Brown “wants his stores to be community stores. He wants to hire locally and address the needs of the neighborhood. So when that store opens, it’s not just that ShopRite has opened its doors, it’s that the community has opened the ShopRite grocery store.”
In that case, we can’t wait for our store!