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Inquirer Editorial: Camden supermarket a welcome development

In a city where there is seldom a reason to celebrate, plans for the first new supermarket in three decades are welcome.

The news in Camden may seem like a small thing to suburban residents, who can choose from a variety of supermarkets that compete for their business and offer extensive selections of fruits and vegetables. But many impoverished places like Camden have few stores large enough to carry much fresh food, leading to their classification as “food deserts.”

The planned ShopRite holds promise not only for healthier eating habits in Camden, but also a desperately needed economic boost.

The struggling city, New Jersey’s poorest, has been teetering on the brink of financial insolvency for years. It has laid off police officers and firefighters and neglected other basic services.

Especially given Camden’s troubled history of state bailouts – and with a Trenton takeover of its schools on the horizon – the city needs to rebuild its decimated tax base to return to viability. It needs a strategy to change the landscape and its destiny.

Beyond the proposed supermarket, redeveloping the city’s vacant swath of waterfront real estate just north of the Ben Franklin Bridge – the former site of Riverfront State Prison – could also encourage more developers to invest in Camden.

The proposed supermarket would anchor a 150,000-square-foot shopping center at Admiral Wilson Boulevard and 17th Street. Developer Ken Goldenberg and the Ravitz family, which owns five ShopRites in Burlington and Camden Counties, are joining forces in the venture. Some of the details of the proposal, including its financing, are still sketchy. But if it goes forward, it is expected to create about 400 construction jobs.

Currently, the 9-square-mile city of 77,000 residents has only one full-service supermarket, a Pathmark in the Fairview section. Because of this acute supermarket shortage, much of Camden is on the federal list of the country’s worst food deserts.

At least a third of the city’s residents live more than a mile from a supermarket. They are often forced to shop in neighborhood bodegas or convenience stores that offer high-priced, processed food of questionable nutritional value. As a result, city shoppers are more likely to suffer from health problems that are complicated by bad eating habits, such as obesity, diabetes, and hypertension.