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Food Oasis in Howard Park Opens

P. Kenneth Burns / WYPR

After 15 years of being a food desert, a Northwest Baltimore neighborhood welcomed a new supermarket Thursday.

City and state dignitaries cut the ribbon on a new Klein’s ShopRite on Liberty Heights Avenue in Howard Park.  A celebration for the new store was held as residents started lining up outside to begin shopping.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Howard Park deserved a quality supermarket and that it was unacceptable for the neighborhood to go without one for more than a decade after Super Pride closed its doors in 1999.

The mayor credited the cooperation between the community, faith leaders and members of her administration for making the new grocery store possible.

“There was a role for everyone and they all played it so this day was possible,” she said while noting her mother lives close to the store.

A coalition of community groups - New All Saints Catholic Church, Northwest Coalition, Howard Park Civic Association, Calvin Rodwell Elementary School and Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD) worked with the mayor’s staff.

Rhona Lewis, a member of BUILD, was among those who started pushing for a supermarket in 2002.  She was excited to be among the first customers at the new ShopRite.

“This is by far, the best store in Baltimore City,” she said, “we’re going to support it 110 percent.”

Also playing a role in hastening the project along was community activist Kim Trueheart.  City Council President Jack Young credited Trueheart for holding a “one woman protest” against Rite-Aid, a few blocks from the site of the ShopRite, as the Howard Park Civic Association was organizing a boycott of the pharmacy chain’s stores in the city. 

Rite-Aid held a covenant preventing a pharmacy on the site of the grocery store on Liberty Heights Avenue between Hillsdale Road and Gwynn Oak Avenue.  The company ultimately removed the covenant.

Trueheart said the new store is something not seen before in Baltimore. 

“It is bright, cheery; open wide aisles [and] the aroma is outstanding,” she said.

Marshall Klein, chief operating officer of Klein’s ShopRite, said his company worked on opening a store for five years.  It saw a need to address food deserts in the city and jumped at an opportunity to open a store in Baltimore.

“When we came down and saw the community and saw how supportive they were, not just of the project, but understanding that they all needed to work together to build something, it really attracted us to the site,” he said.

Klein said his family was happy to open a store where they were able to give the community everything it wanted.  The Klein’s were credited for being active in Howard Park before the store’s doors opened.

“They came to all of our monthly meetings to give us updates for the past year,” said Joyce Smith, resident and secretary of the Howard Park Civic Association, “We didn’t have to search or wonder and try to figure out what’s going on or what was delayed.”

The Klein family also sponsored a “Guns for Goods” program last Saturday where firearms were turned in for $100 gift cards for the new store.

Klein’s Family Markets and UpLift solutions invested $25 million to build the new ShopRite.  It is the largest supermarket in Baltimore with 68,000 sq. ft. according to Baltimore Development Corporation.  The store also houses two community rooms and a kitchen classroom for students in the culinary program at Calvin Rodwell Elementary School.  The 250 new jobs were filled by neighborhood residents.

Brenda McKenize, president and CEO of the corporation, was among the first people to check out at the new store.  She bought a couple of sweet potato pies and a pound cake to share at her office.

Many of the city and state dignitaries at the grand opening kept their speeches short.  They said they wanted to go into the store to shop.