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Oasis in Bmore West’s Food Desert Could Spur Economic Growth

HOWARD PARK –It was a rare moment in Northwest Baltimore. The roughly 900 people gathered on Liberty Heights Avenue July 31 were there not just to hear Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, City Council President Jack Young or Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown talk about an oasis in the city’s food desert but to witness what many called the start of the revitalization of Howard Park.

After 15 years of wandering in a food desert where a special trip was needed to obtain fresh foods, especially fruits, meats and vegetables, residents a have huge, spanking new ShopRite in the 4600 block of Liberty Heights Avenue.

When the new store was unveiled late last month, gleaming at the rear of a freshly paved, 200-space parking lot, a remarkable scene slowly formed as local officials droned on through an opening ceremony that started at 11:30 a.m. Shoppers, poised behind shopping carts, quietly lined up waiting to enter a 67,000-square-foot grocery store, to enter the largest supermarket in Baltimore City.

In addition, there is fire-grilled chicken and a halal section, an uncommon site in a full-scale grocery store, an element that is already being applauded by Muslim residents in the area.

“The store will bring out more people in the neighborhood, especially since the store is in walking distance to many people’s homes,” Sabreen Sharif, a Muslim resident, said, voicing hopes that this store will bring a sense of harmony and peace to the Muslims in the community and the various other religious groups.

More than food, she and other residents noted, this is beginning of sorely needed economic development in the community. Already, the store accounts for 250 new jobs, most of them held by Forest Park residents.

It also is the source of new attention from charitable benefactors. Mike Palmieri, president of Lynmar Builders, which built the new store, donated $5,000 to the Calvin Rodwell Elementary School for one of the nation’s first grade-school culinary programs, Chef Connie’s “Vegetable Time.” The program is to expose youngsters to healthy eating by involving them in preparation of food that will be sold by a catering service based in the school.

But the ShopRite is only a start, according to the local activists. The next target for redevelopment is the burned out Ambassador Theatre across the street from the new market.

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