Down on the corner
ATLANTIC CITY — Raquel McFadden has lost at least 10 pounds since she became a vegetarian three years ago.
Every other day, McFadden, 51, can be seen inside the Cedar Basic Food store on Baltic Avenue buying mayonnaise, spinach, string beans, bread, tuna, juice, water, ketchup and corn. She gets her blueberries from the Save-A-Lot in Renaissance Plaza.
The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority board voted in August to certify Village Super Market, which operates 30 ShopRites across four states, as the developer and operator of a new 40,000-square-foot grocery store at Baltic and Indiana avenues.
In the meantime, Save-A-Lot, the Boom Food Market on Ventnor Avenue and the Cedar Basic Food store are doing what they can to provide fresh fruits, vegetables and meats to residents.
Officials say the ShopRite will take 13 months and cost about $13.5 million to build.
“I wish they would hurry up. It would be nice to have something different,” McFadden said.
In spring 2016, Atlantic City Cedar Food Market stores owned by Sammy Nammour’s family participated in the Corner Store Initiative, which also involved AtlantiCare, to help expand healthy food selection, provide access to food and encourage healthier eating habits.
Corner Store Initiatives have proved successful in many communities striving to create additional access points to healthy foods, said Samantha Kiley, executive director of the AtlantiCare Foundation.
“In communities where there are fewer options for fresh and healthy foods, Corner Store Initiatives provide the opportunity to leverage existing community assets and make small changes to improve the food environment of a community,” Kiley said.
Weekly for four months, customers would come into the stores with vouchers to try fruits, vegetables and other hallmarks of a healthy diet.
The program caused the participating Cedar Markets to stock more and different color peppers and ginger, and more of all the other fruits and vegetables they offered before the program started.
“It didn’t harm us. It only helped us. We do what we can to improve our community,” said Nammour, who added the smaller Cedar stores stuck with offering more healthy options once the program ended.
The largest Cedar Market Nammour’s family owns is the one at 1700 Baltic Ave., which he manages. Even though the store is smaller than Save-A-Lot, it offers a comparable amount of fresh fruits, vegetables and meats, he said.
CRDA investing in another supermarket in the city is not the greatest idea, Nammour said.
“So much boggles my mind,” Nammour said. “They should reinvest in the smaller mom-and-pop shops in Atlantic City.”
Most of the city north of Albany Avenue is in a low-income, low-access area deemed a “food desert” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Access Research Atlas.
One of the exceptions is at the southern end of the Chelsea neighborhood at North Hartford and Ventnor avenues, where the 10,000-square-foot Boom Food Market has been located for the past 15 years.
Besides typical fruits and vegetables such as apples, grapes, watermelons, lettuce and carrots, the store specializes in fare from other countries such as guava from Thailand, Asian pears and chipilin from Mexico, and offers a full aisle of international products and ethnic foods.
“The difference between us and them is we have international products. We have products from all over the world,” said manager Walter Chicas, 41. “That’s what makes us different from any store in town or out of town.”
Maria Alvarez, 49, works overnight at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, Mainland campus in Galloway Township, and stops inside Boom at least twice a week because she can walk there from her house.
Alvarez normally buys plums for her daughter along with milk, cereal, pineapple, strawberries, grapes, blueberries and watermelon. She usually visits on Thursdays to buy discount meats.
“I’m trying to be more healthy and lose a couple of pounds,” Alvarez said. “I’m trying to lose my stomach. I’m working on it, a little bit.”