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Four Grocers Are Vying To Replace The Hill District’s Shuttered Shop ‘N Save

Jake Savitz
90.5 WESA

Tonight, Pittsburgh’s Hill District residents will hear from four businesses who hope to open a grocery store in the neighborhood. The Shop ‘n Save that opened in the Centre Heldman Plaza to fanfare in 2013 was the Hill’s first full-service grocery in decades. But it closed in 2019 and the 34,000-square-foot space has been empty ever since.

Residents and city officials alike are eager to find a replacement for the Shop ‘n Save. But Felicity Williams, the programs and policy manager for the Hill Community Development Corporation, said in order for the new business to be successful, residents must play a central role in choosing it.

“It has to be desired by the community and it has to serve the community and benefit the community,” she said.

At Monday’s meeting the four grocers — Family Tree Food Market, Fresh International Market, Pierre Development, and Salem’s Market & Grill — will present their plans to community members and take questions. Residents will then have until Sept. 30 to score the proposals and select their first- and second-choice businesses. That feedback will be considered by the Urban Redevelopment Authority, which owns Centre Heldman Plaza.

The URA bought the plaza for $1.6 million in 2019 as its former owner, the nonprofit Hill House Association, stopped paying its bills and ultimately dissolved. At the time, URA board members said they wanted to be sure the plaza served the community and didn’t fall prey to speculation.

In 2020, the agency issued an open call for businesses interested in opening at the plaza and then asked for feedback from community members. The URA engaged a commercial broker to find possible tenants for the grocery store space.

In June of this year, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the URA was considering dividing the large grocery space into two smaller spaces, with one of them committed to a grocery store. At the time, the agency said it had two interested grocers and hoped to announce a deal within a couple of months.

The URA’s director of development services David Serbin said dividing the space is still a possibility, and that both grocers in contact with the URA this summer are still vying for the store. Serbin said they now hope to select a grocer by the end of 2021 and that the agency will ask for further community feedback. A web page about Monday’s community meeting says “no decision will be made without community input.”

In advance of the meeting, each grocer filled out a questionnaire to describe their plans and goals. All four are minority business enterprises, plan a full-service store, and have committed to hiring people from the Hill District first:

  • Family Tree Food Company is co-owned by Daniel Craddock, a former Hill District resident with a public health degree. While the company has not yet opened a store, it is working to build a location in Denver, Colorado. 
  • Fresh International Market, owned by Bowen Kou, has several stores across the U.S. and on its website describes itself as an “authentic Asian grocery for the most passionate food explorer.” 
  • Pierre Development, owned by businessman and trained chef Claudy Pierre, proposes a combination grocery and hardware store for the space. He has operated several food-centric businesses around the city. 
  • Salem’s Market & Grill, owned by Abdullah Salem, operates a bustling market and restaurant in the Strip District and proposes a full-service grocery for Centre Heldman along with prepared foods and wholesale offerings. 

Salem plans to anchor his business in the Hill, moving the grocery, restaurant, and butchery operations to the neighborhood; eventually he plans to add a bakery. His business annually draws “hundreds of thousands” of visitors from around the region, and he said that will bring foot traffic to existing and future businesses on the Centre Avenue corridor.
“We are good neighbors. Our genuine motto, not for the sake of advertising, is the 'closest thing to back home, no matter where you’re from,' ” said Salem, who grew up in Oakland. “Our goal is that every single person feels extremely welcome.”

Pierre did not return a request for comment, but wrote in the questionnaire that his store would ensure Hill residents have “access to fresh food … and opportunities for jobs.” Pierre wrote that his business would emphasize workforce development and help small vendors grow through mentorship for entrepreneurs.

Kou said his store concept works in communities similar to the Hill, and that he plans to provide a healthy and affordable option to residents.

“We are going to focus on local community needs with a wide selection of domestic and international cuisine,” Kou said.

He plans to partner with the nonprofit Pennsylvania Women Work, and envisions donating a percentage of the store’s profits to the neighborhood every Thanksgiving.

Craddock, too, said he plans to return a portion of the store’s profits to the community. In addition, he plans to offer services such as consultations with registered dietitians. Too often, stores that open in food deserts such as the Hill District fail, Craddock said. 

“The research shows that they’re not willing to change their business model to one, make a connection with the community, and two, respond to the community needs and then to partner with them to achieve mutual success,” he said.

The meeting will be held on Zoom and begins at 5:30; it was organized by the URA, City Councilor Daniel Lavelle, and the Hill CDC. More information can be found at ura.org.

Margaret J. Krauss is WESA’s senior reporter. She covers development and transportation, and has produced award-winning podcasts on housing, work, and Pittsburgh’s lesser-known history. Before joining the newsroom full time, she covered the challenges facing Pennsylvania cities as a statewide reporter, and spent another life as an assistant editor for National Geographic Kids Magazine in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at mkrauss@wesa.fm.