For the past nine months, John and Florence Refolo have had to plan their trips to the supermarket.
The days of hopping in their car and making a quick trip to the Acme on Long Beach Boulevard were gone. The pair, both in their 80s, had to drive off Long Beach Island to Stafford Township to do their shopping.
But that all changed last week, when Acme reopened its Long Beach Boulevard location after extensive renovations. The store was closed while it was being rebuilt.
“We couldn’t be happier that its back,’’ Florence Refolo, 86, of the Holgate section of Long Beach Township, said last week after finishing her shopping.
Two new Ocean County food stores, including a super Wal-Mart in Little Egg Harbor Township, are bucking a South Jersey trend in recent years. Genuardi’s, Pathmark and SuperFresh have closed in Atlantic and Cape May counties during the past 10 years. In southern Ocean County, Barnegat and Stafford townships are facing a world with fewer grocery stores.
The loss of supermarkets puts some communities at risk of turning into what’s known as “food deserts.”
Food deserts are a technical designation of the U.S. Department of Agriculture — 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 one-third of the families are 1 mile away from a large grocery store in urban areas or 10 miles away in rural areas.
“There is something to be said when a community doesn’t have a supermarket,” said John Refolo, 87, of Holgate. “It’s hard heading over to the mainland every time you need something.”
Long Beach Township Mayor Joseph Mancini said that without a supermarket open, the community seemed to be lacking something.
“It’s more than a supermarket. It’s a place that people go to visit friends,’’ Mancini said. “This is an area that is dominated by seniors, and they didn’t want to run over the mainland every time they needed a loaf of bread.’’
Little Egg Harbor is set to break ground on a 161,000-square-foot Super Wal-Mart that will feature a supermarket. The facility is expected to be complete by April, said Little Egg Harbor Township Mayor Art Midgley.
A formal groundbreaking of the project, which will be located on Route 9, will be held at 11 a.m. June 11
“This will provide convenience to our population, which is about 60 percent senior citizens,” Midgley said. “The addition of Wal-Mart will also make other places drop their prices. It’s simple business.”
Meanwhile, other Atlantic and Cape May counties have lost food shopping destinations. SuperFresh closed stores in Hammonton, Cape May Court House and Egg Harbor Township. Genuardi’s and Pathmark both pulled out of Egg Harbor Township.
However, the loss of supermarkets is not something that concerns Egg Harbor Township Mayor James “Sonny” McCullough.
A majority of the township’s residents do their shopping at the ShopRite at English Creek Avenue and the Black Horse Pike, while those living near the township border with Somers Point do their food shopping there, McCullough said.
“I feel that we have an adequate number of supermarkets,’’ McCullough said. “I have not heard anyone complain about a lack of options.’’
The redeveloped Acme on Long Beach Island will offer shoppers 82 percent more space than it did before. The redesigned store features a fresh salad bar, grilled and rotisserie chicken and hot side dishes, and an on-premises bakery with store-made cakes, pies and pastries.
On Long Beach Island, the return of the Acme to Long Beach Township was needed especially after DeFiglio Great Value and the Ocean Bay Market in Surf City both closed in 2014. Murphy’s Market in Beach Haven is the only other market open on Long Beach Island.
“It’s something that you look for when you come to an area,’’ said vacationing Dalian Palumbo, 65, of Downingtown, Pennsylvania. “It makes it feel like home.’’
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