Charities, leaders join to bring grocery to Hazelwood residents
Mike Dimperio is thrilled at the possibility of a grocery opening in the empty Hazelwood storefront that once housed his 80-year-old family market.
So are neighborhood residents, who say walking to Second Avenue for fresh groceries would be much easier than catching a ride to the South Side or Oakland.
“We need it,” said Tasha Henderson, 28. “Rite Aid is the only store in town, and they don’t sell everything you need.”
Three charities — Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, Action-Housing Inc. and The Heinz Endowments — have joined forces with community leaders and City Councilman Corey O’Connor in an effort to open a nonprofit grocery store, or co-op, at the site of Dimperio’s market, which closed in 2009.
“I told them I’d help them any way I can,” said Dimperio, 72, of Baldwin. “I want to see it work out.”
The Heinz Endowments granted $25,000 for the plan and Allegheny County is kicking in $185,000 from its Community Infrastructure and Tourism Fund so Action-Housing can buy the building.
Action Housing would develop the store; the food bank would lease and operate it.
“We’re committed to this neighborhood, and we’re committed to this project,” said Robert F. Vagt, president of The Heinz Endowments. “I think they’ll put together the business plan, and then we’ll decide how we’re going to fund it, but it will be funded.”
Laura Randolph, the food bank’s chief operating officer, said the store would give low-income families fresh food at reduced prices.
She said the food bank is looking at similar projects across the country for guidance, such as Fresh Start, a nonprofit grocery operated by Second Harvest Community Food Bank in St. Joseph, Mo.
Aaron Smullin, spokesman for Second Harvest, said families of four earning $46,000 or less qualify for membership and receive reduced rates on groceries and free food pantry items.
He said Second Harvest spent $373,000 to open the store, which is less than half the size of Dimperio’s, and subsidizes the operation from its $1.9 million annual operating budget. The store opened in January and Second Harvest hopes it will break even within three years.
“Our goal is to sell a bag of grapes for less than a bag of Doritos,” Smullin said.
Randolph said the Hazelwood store would offer a wide range of products but focus on fresh produce. She said the food bank hopes to eventually transfer it to a community group.
“We plan to have the business plan finished by October,” she said. “From there, depending on what we come up with and what that plan looks like, would really dictate what comes next.”
The grocery store would complement other imminent development in Hazelwood, including the 178-acre former LTV Steel plant site and a former church that Action-Housing is renovating for a Carnegie Library branch and offices.
The Heinz Endowments is a partner in Almono LP, a group developing the former mill property for office, residential and park space, but Vagt said it’s not tied to the grocery store.
Action-Housing raised $220,000 to buy and renovate the former Hazelwood Presbyterian Church, which sits across the street from the grocery store, and hopes to have it ready for tenants next year.
“It’s going to be the library on the upper floor and office space for nonprofits on the lower floor,” said Lena Andrews, planning and development specialist for Action-Housing.
Carnegie Library spokeswoman Suzanne Thinnes said the existing library branch would move from its current location above a laundromat on Second Avenue.
“We would have a larger space for the library, which would include a meeting room, and it would provide greater opportunity not only for books and resource material, but also programming for children, teens and adults,” Thinnes said.
Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or [email protected].