Pittsburgh, PA

Hazelwood group is working to open grocery co-op on Second Avenue

The Homepage, published by Hazelwood Initiative

Hazelwood group is working to open grocery co-op here on Second Avenue.Photo by Juliet Martinez

By Ziggy Edwards

Hazelwood residents working to establish a full-service co-op grocery store on the 4800 block of Second Avenue hope to present their proposal this month to the board of Pittsburgh’s Urban Redevelopment Authority [URA].

Calls for a grocery store enjoy broad community support and recognition in the Greater Hazelwood Neighborhood Plan. Two Hazelwood groups, People Of Origin Rightfully Loved And Wanted [POORLAW] and a subsidiary called Greater Hazelwood Coalition Against Racial and Ethnic Disparities [GH-CARED] are now spearheading the effort to make this community desire a reality. The other organizations involved are Massaro Properties, Oak Moss Consulting, D. Well & Associates, DeLoJe, True Spirit Property Management, Leaders of Change, and Four Mile Run Communications.

They plan to build a two-story building on the southern part of the block near the intersection of Second and Hazelwood avenues. The first floor would be a 20,000-square-foot grocery store, while the second floor would house other services to be determined by the community.

Pittsburgh’s Urban Redevelopment Authority [URA] owns most of the 4800 block. In 2019, they put out a call for redevelopers to propose housing and retail projects for the site. The development team that URA selected did not propose a development for the west (river) side of Second Avenue. Therefore, residents are asking the URA to postpone any decisions about that side of the street for at least nine months and give the neighborhood coalition time to solidify its proposal.

The Heinz Endowments has committed to funding a feasibility study for the grocery store if the group prevails. The Greater Hazelwood Community Collaborative [GHCC] board voted to write a letter to the URA in support of the project. Hazelwood Initiative [HI] also plans to do so. In addition, HI will vote on whether to let the group use an HI-owned building on the 4800 block as part of the project.

In the past, officials have expressed doubt about feasibility. For example, during a 2019 public meeting at the Center of Life, local Councilman Corey O’Connor responded to a Hazelwood resident’s comment that Hazelwood needs a grocery store by saying the possibility had been explored and “the numbers weren’t there.”

He later explained studies had been conducted by HI and Action Housing in partnership with “a group out of [Washington] DC.” They took place 5 or 6 years ago, Councilman O’Connor said, and he did not recall the particulars.

Councilman O’Connor added that he has long recognized Hazelwood’s lack of access to fresh food and produce. He has supported efforts to remedy the problem, such as setting up farm stands on the 4800 block that later “spun off” into a popular neighborhood market, Dylamato’s, at the southern end of Second Avenue near Glenwood Bridge.

“I’m fully supportive of a grocery store [in Hazelwood],” Councilman O’Connor said. “That’s the whole point of moving forward with a market study.”

An earlier study echoes Councilman O’Connor’s reservations about whether the community can support a traditional supermarket. In 2019, HI commissioned the Greater Hazelwood Housing and Business District Action Plan and published it in January, 2020. The section of the 112-page report dealing with the community’s desire for a food-oriented market says a full-service, full-size grocery store would not be viable for Hazelwood for two reasons. First, it says, residents are already traveling along familiar routes by bus or car to do their shopping. Given the steep hills in the neighborhood, most of them would still have to drive or take a bus to do their shopping on Second Avenue.

The second reason cited in the report is that a full-size supermarket requires more than $10 million in annual sales. The report says Greater Hazelwood has $6 million in surplus grocery retail spending, which is considerable, but not enough for a full-service grocery store.

“A market that allows for small food-based vendors to have a physical presence in the neighborhood would serve as an alternative to a full-service grocery store,” the report says. This plan would promote local businesses and maintain the character of the neighborhood, the report states, but would require careful management to become sustainable.

Pastor Lutual Love, who leads Praise Temple Deliverance Church and is a founding member of GH-CARED, said the neighborhood group is basing its efforts on the premise that residents of surrounding neighborhoods will be potential customers. “We want everyone to be a part of it,” said Pastor Love.

The group envisions a co-op model, which offers many advantages over a third-party retailer. “[As a co-op] we have to make a profit, but not the same type as what is required by a private company. Our profit goes to stabilize and sustain store operations rather than advance individuals.”

“A chain can leave if they don’t have a high enough profit margin,” said Saundra Cole McKamey, co-founder of POORLAW. She cited the example of Shop ‘n Save’s 2019 closure of their location in the Hill District’s Centre Heldman Plaza. The move left Hill residents without a grocery store. The URA bought the shopping complex that year, and worked with the community to choose a new grocery store to fill the spot. They recently announced they will enter into lease negotiations with Salem’s Market & Grill. Ms. McKamey added that she would like to see the URA work with the Hazelwood community in similar ways.

The GH-CARED team is in planning discussions with the Keystone Development Center—a nonprofit that, according to their website, “provide[s] technical and research assistance to groups who wish to organize as cooperatives.”

Pastor Love said Keystone will provide training on running a co-op, and GH-CARED will make such training available to all community members “whether they’re interested in participating or just learning about how a co-op works.”

“It’s about more than just food,” he said. “It’s an attitude that helps us preserve our community.”

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The Homepage is a print newspaper delivered monthly to households in Greater Hazelwood, Glen Hazel, Greenfield, Hays, New Homestead, Lincoln Place and The Run. Hazelwood Initiative, Inc., a community-based nonprofit, publishes The Homepage through a grant from the City of Pittsburgh and advertising revenue from local businesses and organizations. The mission of Hazelwood Initiative, as a community-based development corporation, is to build a stronger Hazelwood through inclusive community development. Sonya Tilghman, Executive Director of Hazelwood Initiative, Inc. (she/her) Juliet Martinez, Managing Editor of The Homepage (they/them) Sarah Kanar, Layout and Design of The Homepage(she/her)

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