ATLANTIC CITY (October 18, 2018) – The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority is taking another bite of the apple that has eluded the resort for years: bringing a major supermarket to the island.
During Tuesday’s public meeting, CRDA approved a contract with grocery store development consultant Uplift Solutions Inc. The awarded contract is for one year and for an amount not to exceed $157,500.
The idea of opening a supermarket or major grocery store in Atlantic City is not a novel concept, Board Chairman Robert Mulcahy said.
“This is an issue that’s been around. It’s been discussed here many times. I think (with) Wasseem Boraie’s market-rate rental housing (600 North Beach) about to be occupied and the development in the Chelsea section and with more people coming to the city, this is something that really is important to the city,” Mulcahy said.
The need for a major grocery store or supermarket was an item highlighted in the state’s transition report on Atlantic City. Authored by Special Council Jim Johnson, the report identified the lack of quality food options for city residents and recommended CRDA get involved.
The Johnson report suggested either a commercial market or a citizen-led food co-op as possibilities.
The city, which is home to slightly more than 38,000 people, has several small-scale neighborhood stores, including five Cedar Food Markets, and discount grocers, such as Save-A-Lot in Renaissance Plaza.
But according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, large portions of the city are considered food deserts, areas where at least 20 percent of families are at or below the federal poverty line, or make 20 percent less than the median families in surrounding areas, and a third of the families are a mile from a supermarket in urban areas, or 10 miles in rural areas.
The most recent U.S. Census data show nearly 37 percent of the city’s residents live in poverty and the median household income is less than $27,000.
The last major grocer in Atlantic City was IGA, which opened in 2004 but closed after only two years due to issues including theft, vandalism and the death of the store’s owner. Following that store’s closing, CRDA attempted to bring in another grocer, even offering a reported $400,000 subsidy to Acme.
Mayor Frank Gilliam, who sits on the CRDA board, said that as a councilman he advocated for bringing a supermarket to Atlantic City. Gilliam said he believed a grocery store could “change the dynamics” for existing residents and those considering making Atlantic City their new home.
Councilman Kaleem Shabazz, who spoke during a public comment period, called it a “worthwhile project” that was “long overdue.”
A location for a potential supermarket was not disclosed Tuesday. But Mulcahy said CRDA Executive Director Matt Doherty had negotiated with Uplift so that services already performed by the authority in previous attempts, such as identifying prime locations, would not be part of the rendered services.
Steve Young, a resident of Atlantic City, asked the board whether a consulting firm was necessary. Mulcahy said Uplift had “provided successful services” in similar food desert environments and had a solid record of delivering results. Even then, Mulcahy warned that bringing a grocer to Atlantic City was “not a slam dunk.”
Doherty said the effort would be worth it.
“This could go a long way toward significantly improving the health and quality of life in the city,” he said.