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After decades without a grocery store, Hazelwood residents want to build it themselves

Margaret J. Krauss
90.5 WESA
The neighborhood’s community plan evolved from years of public meetings, and stresses the desire for a grocery store.

Hazelwood residents want to develop a full-service grocery store in the neighborhood -- a proposal whose unorthodox nature could test the City of Pittsburgh’s commitment to community-driven development.

Two neighborhood groups are leading the effort: P.O.O.R.L.A.W. (People Of Origin Rightfully Loved And Wanted) and a subsidiary called G.H. CARED (Greater Hazelwood Coalition Against Racial and Ethnic Disparities).

The groups represent a larger coalition of community organizations and residents, “who want to bring power back to the people … and bring attention to projects that need to be done,” said Pastor Lutual Love. He leads Praise Temple Deliverance Church and is a co-founder of G.H. CARED. “It’s a development being led and managed by the residents, the people.”

It’s been decades since Hazelwood had a full-service grocery; residents instead travel to Greenfield, Homestead, or the South Side to shop. The neighborhood’s comprehensive community plan, adopted in 2019 after a years-long partnership with the city, found that residents “overwhelmingly desire a neighborhood grocery store.”

But work to secure one hasn’t succeeded, so residents want to build it themselves.

“We live here. We know what we want. We know what we need,” said Saundra Cole McKamey, co-founder of P.O.O.R.L.A.W. and a long-time Hazelwood resident.

The coalition hopes to develop a two-story building on the 4800 block of Second Avenue, the neighborhood’s main commercial district. Located near the intersection of Hazelwood and Second avenues, the building’s first floor would be a 20,000-square-foot grocery store.

Plans for the second floor remain undecided. The group wants the choices to be informed by further community input, but some possibilities include a credit union, a job training center, and a daycare. But central to the group’s plan is the structure of those businesses, which they want to set up as community- or employee-owned cooperatives.

“The advantage is the economic advantages of ownership,” said group member Bill Bailey, who is president and CEO of Infinite Prosperity, a nonprofit that aims to close the wealth gap. The goal, he said, was “having control of the destiny of the community.”

That goal is particularly pressing as the nearby 178-acre Hazelwood Green development, built on a former industrial site, continues to evolve. The site’s long-range plan aims to bring more businesses and new residents to the neighborhood. City officials and the Hazelwood Green’s owners -- a group of local foundations -- have stressed that they want their project to complement Second Avenue, not compete with it.

“If there is a community-owned grocery store right at the crossroads of that development, that is a guaranteed way to ensure that the Hazelwood community is benefitting,” said Barb Warwick, a Four Mile Run resident who is working with the Hazelwood group.

Much of the 4800 block is owned by the Urban Redevelopment Authority. The agency has seeded development on its northernsection, which is slated to see a mix of affordable housing and retail projects, but residents want the URA to hold off on making plans for the southern part of the block for at least nine months. That will give the group time to commission a feasibility study and flesh out its proposal.

Their work has already attracted the support of established developers: Krish Pandya and Joe Massaro. Massaro is president of Massaro Construction Group, while Pandya is the managing partner of Oak Moss, which helped restore one of the city’s oldest buildings and is working on a 62-unit affordable housing development in Hazelwood.

“We’ve got to run down the list of possibilities and do whatever we can to get some fresh food in the community,” said Massaro.

The group submitted a concept paper and projected financials to the URA last week, and is in the process of answering further questions. Love said he hopes the URA will treat the community groups like any other developer.

“We want the opportunity to design and and see if it’s reasonable to put a grocery store where we’re proposing for it to go,” Love said.

If the URA grants the group the nine months it is seeking, other organizations are ready to step up. The Heinz Endowments, for example, has committed to paying for a feasibility study, said Massaro.

The group hopes to be ready with an initial proposal to go before the URA board in November.

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