It was a proud moment for Neil Greenstein, the owner of a brand-new ShopRite supermarket, as he walked down the aisles past glistening fruits and vegetables at his new creation on Springfield Avenue in the heart of Newark’s Central Ward.
“We decided to open a supermarket that meets the needs of this community, and to identify certain under-served products and provide fresh, affordable produce throughout the store,” he told NJ Jewish News as he made a last-minute inspection just minutes before the store’s opening on Sept. 30.
Another goal was providing employment to people living in the area. “We focused primarily on hiring local residents,” Greenstein said. “We have over 300 employees and 220 of them live in Newark. We are very proud of that.”
As in numerous inner cities, many Newark neighborhoods are considered “food deserts,” where residents have limited access to healthy and affordable food.
Greenstein is determined to change that.
“We felt this was an opportunity to serve the city of Newark with a store that is state-of-the-art, with all of the bells and whistles. I can’t answer why it hasn’t happened before, but we are so happy that it is happening,” he said.
Greenstein’s father, Mark, who passed on management of the Brookdale ShopRite in Bloomfield to his son, was born at Newark Beth Israel Hospital and grew up in the city’s Weequahic section when it was the heart of the city’s Jewish community.
“To me, this is Newark giving birth,” said Mark Greenstein. “The store is going to change the lives of hundreds of people in the city. I am very, very proud of my son.”
In addition to the ShopRite, a Whole Foods is slated to open in Newark later this year.
Neil Greenstein said its arrival “affirms our market data that tells us there is a need for a supermarket and competition is good. It helps the consumer, and if it helps the consumer we will be in good shape.”
In addition to carrying a selection of kosher meat and products, Greenstein’s supermarket will offer halal meat for observant Muslim customers. “There is a significant part of the population in Newark that follows halal dietary restrictions, and we have met these needs,” said Greenstein.
Imam Mustafa El-Amin, leader of Masjid Ibrahim Islamic center on Chancellor Avenue, was on hand for the opening. “For Newark it is an excellent thing in terms of providing jobs, and it helps the beautification of the city,” he said.
“I see they have halal meats and they have a kosher section,” adding, however, that “Muslims can eat kosher food if they can’t get halal. You don’t have to be Jewish,” the imam quipped.
“This day means a whole lot to me,” said store manager Tom Clanton. The Newark native will supervise some 365 employees. He made sure that 225 of them are Newark residents.
“I was born and raised in Newark and to have this type of investment made in our city is unbelievable,” he said.
Louis White, a resident of the neighborhood, waited for two hours to be the first shopper on line when the store opened at 10 a.m. “It means a lot. It is good for the city, it will help people get jobs, and it’s a place that we needed,” he told NJJN.
P.J. Johnson arrived at 8:45, getting herself a place as the second person on line. The new store “has been a long time coming, and it is a great opportunity for the city of Newark, not just for shopping but a place for education of our young people and a place for socialization for our seniors,” she said.
Moments before the ribbon-cutting ceremony outside the ShopRite’s sliding glass doors, Neil Greenstein spoke to the crowd of several hundred gathered in the parking lot. “We call our Brookdale ShopRite ‘a supermarket with a heart,’ and we are bringing that same passion and heart to Newark,” he said. “We believe if we make decisions that are right for our customers and our community, those decisions will also be right for our business.”
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka told the audience, “I don’t have to go to West Orange to shop for food anymore. I can go to Springfield Avenue in the Central Ward to the best supermarket in the state…. In West Orange they don’t have over 250 Newarkers working at their store.”
Acting Gov. Kim Guadagno said that in the city before the opening, “the only way you could get food for you and your children was if you got in a cab or on a bus. That day is over in Newark as of today…. We are committed to making sure ‘food deserts’ in New Jersey, especially in urban areas, are at an end.”
Teasing the Democrat Baraka, the Republican Guadagno said, “The community will actually have a chance to look your mayor straight in the face while he’s buying his milk here and complain to him about what’s bugging you.”