Salem’s Market & Grill to become the Hill District’s grocery store
Pittsburgh’s Urban Redevelopment Authority selected Salem’s Market & Grill to become the grocer in the Hill District. The announcement comes nearly two years after the URA purchased the 40,000 square-foot former Shop ‘N Save on Centre Avenue and promised a community process to find a new operator.
“We’re extremely humbled and thankful for the opportunity, and that’s genuine, that’s not fluff talk,” said Abdullah Salem, the store’s owner. The family business began in Oakland more than 40 years ago, and currently operates on Penn Avenue in the Strip District. That location will close as the grocer moves to the Hill.
Four companies presented their plans last month at a community meeting coordinated by the URA, the Hill Community Development Corporation and City Councilor Daniel Lavelle’s office. When officials asked Hill District residents to evaluate the four proposals and select their favorite, a majority named Salem’s their top choice.
Where the Shop ‘N Save was highly dependent on public dollars, Salem’s is not, Lavelle said: With hundreds of thousands of shoppers a year, the store’s established customer base should help ensure Salem’s success, he said -- especially when bolstered by community members eager to shop in their own neighborhood.
That traffic will also support “additional businesses that we’re trying to create and build out on Centre Avenue” as part of the revitalization of the commercial corridor, Lavelle said.
Support for the neighborhood’s master plan was a crucial part of Salem’s presentation to community members. As the business prepares to move its operations, Salem said his team read all of the feedback people submitted on their proposal.
“We’re very cognizant of the things we have to do to ensure that everybody in the community is happy with what’s coming,” he said, and added that his personal motto — written on the wall at work — is “Failure is not an option, mediocrity is not an option, excellence is the only option.”
Salem’s on Centre Avenue will be a full-scale grocery, with larger produce and dry goods sections than the current store. It will include a seafood section, pharmacy and beauty products, wholesale goods, the grill and cafe, and a butcher shop. In time, Salem hopes to add a bakery.
It may bode well for the store’s future if those offerings help families cut down on the number of stores they need to visit. A long-running study from RAND, led by Tamara Dubowitz, examined the shopping habits and diet of residents in the Hill District. It found that transportation and family composition played a large role in determining where people shopped; people with children more often chose to do their shopping at a supercenter.
Due to convenience, the Shop ‘N Save became Hill residents’ second most-frequented store. However, ut the Giant Eagle on the South Side remained most shoppers’ main grocery store, and regained ground over time. In surveys, many respondents said the Shop ‘N Save was expensive and the food was not fresh.
The business expects to hire between 50 and 75 people for the store, and will offer butcher and chef training; Salem has committed to hiring from the neighborhood first. Shelf space will be dedicated to local retailers, and Salem’s intends to work with community organizations to support and foster local business.
It is critical to drive neighborhood development with community-level review, said Felicity Williams, programs and policy director for the Hill CDC.
“We are hopeful that alternate opportunities will be explored with applicants who were not selected, but who can still bring value to our neighborhood's revitalization efforts,” she said in an email.
The URA board must formally approve Salem’s selection at its meeting this week, and then the agency’s staff will negotiate the terms of the lease with Salem. He said in the next few weeks they will test all the equipment on site to see what works and begin work on the space as soon as possible.
Salem said he knows the neighborhood needs the store as soon as possible, and they are working to deliver. He and his staff expect to open in the spring of next year.