Philadelphia: high society returns to Center City.
But a rebirth that began almost a decade ago is bringing people back into the city to live. As these young urban professionals populate neighborhoods such as Society Hill and Old City, supermarkets in the area are adapting to service the needs of these upwardly mobile consumers.
The neighborhood that has experienced the most dramatic changeover is Society Hill, located about 10 blocks from Center City. "This neighborhood was deteriorating waterfront property 15 years ago," recalls Myrna Field, president of the Society Hill Civic Association.
The change began around 1970, when private developers realized the selling potential of houses and apartments within walking distance of the corporate and professional offices of Center City. The redevelopment of Society Hill started with high-rise apartments, and then spread to the townhouses that line the streets of this historic section of the city. One of the first complexes built was Society Hill Towers, which stretches more than 40 stories upward and provides residents with views of Center City and the Delaware River.
Simultaneously, high-rise luxury apartments were built about a mile to the west, an area near the Franklin Institute of Art and a short 15-minute stroll to the heart of downtown. Townhouses and row houses within several blocks of the museum were taken over and transformed by young professionals, who liked the idea of living near the cultural as well as the commercial districts of Philadelphia.
Several supermarkets have attempted to take hold of the business in these sections of Philadelphia. Near the art museum is Klein's Super Market a 4,000-square-foot store that aims its product mix and merchandising toward the upper crust of the gentry. Seven blocks away, a 24,000-square-foot Shop 'n Bag supports itself on trade from lower income groups from the "pocket of poverty" that abuts the area being revitalized, and tries to attract some additional business from the "pocket of plenty."
Both stores opened about five years ago and have profited by adhering to their diverse philosophies.
Klein's is located on the ground floor of the Philadelphian, a luxury condominium where units cost about $250,000 apiece. Klein's is a full-service supermarket in a store the size of a superette. It sells meat, produce, deli products, dairy, bakery, frozen food and groceries. Quality is stressed instead of price.
"My three sons wanted to go into the grocery business, but did not want to work in the area of north Philly where the family store had been for decades," says Owner Sid Klein. "We started looking for an opportune place to open a store, somewhere in the city where we could serve a better type of trade, but still be in a city environment."
Klein found the ideal site at the Phildelphian, where a 7-Eleven was being evicted because the condominium association did not feel a convenience store served the needs of the building. "The association was looking for somebody to operate a full-line supermarket in a limited space. We had done that in north Philly for years. It was an ideal match."
The market has been so successful that Klein's brother Len opened a similar store in the Society Hill section last February. His 3,000-square-foot Tower Supermarket is situated in an outdoor arcade that is part of the Society Hill Towers complex. Both stores stress selection and service to please their upper-crust clientele.
"People who live in Society Hill are looking for quality perishables and a friendly face," says Len Klein, who was a social worker for several years between the closing of the family store and the opening of the Tower Supermarket. "They particularly want good meat and produce, and are willing to pay top dollar for it."
Due to the large percentage of singles and working couples in these gentrified neighborhoods, the Klein's stores sell a lot of steaks and chops. These are easy to prepare, yet appeal to gourmet eaters. Boneless chicken breasts, Cornish hens and various cuts of turkey also sit well with the nutritional concerns of this educated group of shoppers.
The stores also feature seafood adjacent to the meat cases where customers can buy sole, cod, scallops, shrimp and other seafood products. Meat accounts for more than one-quarter of sales.
The deli, which accounts for 8% of sales, has been a hit with the affluent apartment dwellers. Len Klein estimates that between 5 and 7 p.m. the delit brings in 70% of his store's shoppers. Both stores sell products such as seafood salad, artichoke salad, and chopped liver. Homemade knishes also move well.
While the Klein's stores cater to the more affluent shoppers, other supermarkets like Shop 'n Bag are trying to attract all the kinds of people who reside in these rapidly changing neighborhoods. The Shop 'n Bag supermarket on Girard Avenue, only a two-minute drive from Klein's, is as different as day and night from the upscale store in the clientele to whom it caters.
Owned by the Stiglitz family, who also operate a super in Upper Darby, the store was formerly a Pantry Pride that was closed when the beleaguered chain left Philadelphia. Stiglitz moved into the store in 1980, and proceeded to change its product mix and merchandising philosophy to appeal to the changing neighborhood.
The family has a special attachment to the area because the family patriarch opened his first grocery store across the street from this current location almost 50 years ago. When Gary Stiglitz' grandfather operated the market across the street, the neighborhood population was primarily working class white. Since then, it has become increasingly poor and black. But starting about seven years ago, the community began to change as the gentrification that started along Pennsylvania Avenue began to push into what had become a ghetto.
"Girard Avenue used to be a thriving commercial street, and we felt that it had the potential to once again become a hub of commerce in this community," says Stiglitz, who operates the supermarket with his father and brother. "We knew that the neighborhood would not get any worse, and thought it would improve."
On one side of the avenue are row houses that sell for $70,000 and up. On the other side are abandoned tenements. Since neither side has enough consumers to support a supermarket. Stiglitz has adapted his product mix and merchandising to appeal to the two diverse groups. During the first two weeks of the month, when the poorer people shop, he advertises items such as smoked neckbones, pig's feet and other low-cost sources of protein.
"Since we belong to a co-op group, we always go with their ad in general. But we do make changes because of our unique marketing area," Stiglitz says. "On occasions, we use different front pages. At the beginning of the month, we include more lower-priced products than in the co-op ad, and toward the end of the month we add steaks, fillets and other higher-priced items."
Stiglitz estimates that 8% of his customers are poor, and the remainder are relatively affluent. To attract the wellheeled into what some view as a dangerous neighborhood, he places a strong emphasis on security. Two guards are always present--one is responsible for watching for shoplifting while the other patrols the parking lot and avenue to make sure no one is waiting to take advantage of people on their way to or from the store.
Stiglitz also permits a hot dog vendor to use the store's parking lot rent-free. "Having somebody on the lot all day helps tremendously. The young kids who are likely to cause trouble do not hang around when a person is watching them," he notes.
To discourage youths from scribbling graffiti on the side of the store, Stiglitz has commissioned some urban artists to paint a mural. "We want to give people a good feeling about our store, to make them realize we are an important part of the community," says Stiglitz. He feels that sprucing up the store will make people feel more safe, bringing in the affluent people who either shop at Klein's, or who drive miles away to shop in suburban centers.
It certainly seems he will have enough potential shoppers to attract. For as Philadelphia upgrades its neighborhoods, more people will move into the city. One resident of the Philadelphian boldly predicts that Philadelphia will have a better reputation for the quality of its urban life than New York City will in 20 years.
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|Title Annotation:||supermarkets cater to affluent and lower-income groups|
|Date:||Feb 1, 1985|
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