Just last year, at the intersection of Chew Ave and Washington Lane, there was only a large vacant lot. Now, there is a supermarket in its place.
After months of construction, a new Bottom Dollar Food opened to the public on the day of Halloween. And in the subsequent months, the store appears to be receiving positive feedback.
“The community’s really excited. Everyone has kinda been really supportive,” said Darnell Mason.
Mason is the store manager of this location of Bottom Dollar Food. Both a native and current resident of the city, Mason has been with the company for three years and has helped to open two other sites in the Philadelphia region.
“One thing that Bottom Dollar Food is trying to do is we’re trying to go into communities, particularly in the city of Philadelphia, that don’t have those options,” said Mason. “A lot of people are elderly, so they don’t have the transportation or the means to get 2 miles away to get fresh produce. We can provide that at a low cost in our refrigerated produce cooler to neighborhoods.”
The addition of a Bottom Dollar Food could not have come at a better time for the area. The Philadelphia Department of Public Health released a study in March 2013 that analyzed walkable access to healthy foods in the various parts of the city in 2010 and 2012. In the Northwest section of the city, which includes Germantown, it was found that 55 percent of residents in 2012 had low to no access to healthy food within walking distance.
“I mean, there’s not too many grocery stores in this immediate area. I know that a few miles away there’s a few stores. However, for someone in the neighborhood who doesn’t drive, it makes a big difference, said Mason. “So, a lot of the customers were really receptive, really open and happy that we were in the neighborhood.”
In addition to being the store manager, Mason also acts as the community ambassador for Bottom Dollar Food.
“I actually took on the role of the community ambassador for Bottom Dollar Food. So anything in the city of Philadelphia, any type of community events, I handle,” said Mason. “I get funding, I get manpower, whatever’s necessary.”
Within the residential areas that surround Washington Lane and Chew Ave, there are few food options, let alone healthy ones. And even just past Washington Lane, headed toward Germantown Avenue, healthy choices for food are even more limited.
“Especially in our community, the black community, which I am totally compelled to make an impact in, I really truly believe that having access to healthy foods can change the way we eat and ultimately help us have healthier lives,” said Mason.
This basic idea of taking a once vacant lot in a neighborhood and turning it into something useful for the community has been in action throughout the city for years. According to a 2008 report from City Harvest, the city of Philadelphia had a total of 226 community gardens. These gardens alone produced an estimated 2,037,143 pounds of crops, which were valued at around $4,860,364.
“Apparently there’s a lot of opportunity for crime and different things in the neighborhood, from what I’ve been hearing from police. However, building a new grocery store here, also next door they’re building the expansion on the Wissahickon Charter School, so just having that in the neighborhood totally beautifies the neighborhood,” said Mason. “People are really excited. One, because they can get low-cost healthy food at a great price and the second part of it, it makes the neighborhood look that much better.”
The new store seems to be making some form of an impact in the local community. According to Mason, they are expected to completely exceed their sales projections for the year.
“I’m excited about what Bottom Dollar Food is doing to the neighborhood and doing to the city of Philadelphia. And I’m also excited to see some of the elderly people coming out saying ‘Thank you so much for opening up a store in the area. I wish I could get fresh produce from somewhere else,’” said Mason. “I think it’s going to be a great opportunity for us and the community.”