Life typically is a compromise between the ideal and reality. The reality of the latest effort to develop a supermarket in challenging Atlantic City is that only one company fully responded to the CRDA’s request for proposals. Happily, that lone company is widely considered the ideal developer, already owning and operating successful ShopRites in the area.
This more serious effort to secure a supermarket for the long term is a priority of New Jersey’s effort to improve the quality of life in Atlantic City and realize more of its economic potential. In the past, full-service groceries have opened only to close in response to the burdens of vagrancy and theft.
This time, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority had an experienced consultant craft the plan for the supermarket and the request for proposals. Recently, the authority designated Village Super Market Inc. — which owns and operates 30 ShopRites — the developer and operator of a planned 40,000-square-foot store in the city.
The response in the city has been very positive. Councilman Kaleem Shabazz said that in several community meetings, the “consensus was they wanted a ShopRite.” Mayor Frank Gilliam said, “To have ShopRite say it’s willing to be in the city of Atlantic City sends a deeper ripple effect than we can imagine.”
ShopRites have broad appeal because they typically are large stores with wide inventory and many features that compete fiercely on price. Their pricing, distribution and advertising strength derive from their membership in Wakefern Food Corp., the nation’s largest retailer-owned food cooperative with about 350 stores. As the supplier to the stores — from Massachusetts to Maryland and dominant in New Jersey — Wakefern is New Jersey’s largest private employer with a workforce of 35,000.
Village Super Market is a powerhouse among ShopRite-owning Wakefern members, the only one that is publicly traded (on the Nasdaq exchange). The Springfield, Union County, company was started by the Sumas family nearly a decade before the founding of Wakefern. Its ShopRite in Somers Point for many years has been the supermarket with the largest sales volume by far in this region.
The CRDA and Village Super Market now are discussing what level of state support will be needed to build and operate the store in Atlantic City. The company will be responsible for security not only inside but around the store, which will add costs absent from suburban supermarket locations. Shoppers at other food stores in Atlantic City sometimes have felt harassed by loiterers and panhandlers.
An attorney for the company said the building cost is estimated at $13.5 million (possibly on land leased from the CRDA at no cost). An initial estimate of annual sales of $22 million would entail an annual loss of about $115,000, he said, but a higher sales volume may be possible and could reduce or eliminate the loss.
We hope for the residents of Atlantic City and the Downbeach communities as well as the company and CRDA that an agreement is reached that gets the ShopRite built and allows it to operate long enough to realize the potential of a full-service supermarket in the city.
Village Super Market’s ability to do that is predicated on state support and modern security technology, and we suspect its astute executives see the Atlantic City store as a potential prototype for stores in challenging inner-city locations. If it works, it could bring more and healthier food choices to their residents and allow the company to serve a neglected niche in the marketplace. That could be a great benefit to society at a very reasonable cost.