Price Rite supermarket eliminates decade-old Southside food desert

Many Syracuse residents have relied on corner stores for groceries. Now, a regional chain has opened its doors.

Breaking the ground for the construction of a new building is not much of a grand occasion.

“Normally the only people that go to those are us and the developers and maybe a couple of politicians,” said Jim Dorey, executive vice president of Price Rite Supermarkets.

Almost 150 people showed up for the groundbreaking of the Price Rite on the Southside of Syracuse on June 17, 2016 — most were residents and community leaders.

Photo: Stacy Fernández
Neil Duffy, president of Price Rite Supermarkets

“The overwhelming theme was, ‘You don’t know how long we’ve been waiting to get this,'” Dorey said.

For about 30 years the Southside neighborhood has been a food desert, defined by the United States Department of Agriculture as "parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas. This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers." For an area to qualify as a food desert at least 500 residents, or 33 percent of residents, must reside one mile from a supermarket.

On April 2, through a partnership with Jubilee Homes, a local non-profit working to provide housing opportunities for low-income families, a Price Rite opened up on Syracuse’s Southside. Walter Dixie, executive director of Jubilee Homes, was a driving force behind the project — having invested his time into the project for the last decade.

Neil Duffy, president of Price Rite added that the Jubilee staff helped from the funding process to hiring.

"Everything that we did they were right there with us,” Duffy said.

Though the total cost for the store was $5.3 million, Dixie was able to get $1.4 million in New York state grants, $200,000 from Onondaga County and a tax deal with the city.

Hundreds of people turned out for the store's grand opening. Doors opened two hours before originally planned, customers started forming lines before the sun had risen.

Now on any given day of the week the grocery store is full. The parking lot is at least half way filled, and for the majority who don’t have cars they can be seen walking and biking to and from the store.

The supermarket carries 5,000 items, considered relatively low, Dorey said. 

“We have a lot less variety than a typical store, that’s how we’re able to pass along the savings,” Dorey said. “We start off with the best selling items, and then some specialty items and then we kind of adjust the mix as we go.”

Dixie said on opening day a group of women, switching between English and Spanish, exclaimed to each other about the prices. One pulled out her phone and called a friend telling her to get to the supermarket as soon as possible — an item they normally spent $3.99 on was being sold for $0.99.

Part of being in the Southside neighborhood is being mindful of prices, but also what products they place on the shelves.

“We do have some unique items throughout the store that people are thankful to find," Dorey said. "Sometimes it's from their home country and they don’t typically find it, and what we do is put it at a ridiculous retail, so they appreciate that part too.” 

The store has an aisle dedicated to multicultural food. These items are also taken into account for in the produce aisle with food like sugar cane, which you wont see at local Wegman’s or Tops, and plantains. When they don’t have something shoppers will find who to talk to to get their needs reflected in the store.

“I still like Wegmans and PriceChopper, but guess where most of my money is going to go now,” said Syracuse native Shirley Perry. "Back into our community."

She added that most of her family will be shopping at the new PriceRite and that it will be especially convenient for older people who now have access to fresh food at a walking distance.

Food isn’t all Price Rite has brought the community. A new store means jobs, 125 and counting, all of which Cherylene "Twiggy" Billue, the Build to Work coordinator at Jubilee Homes, has had a hand in getting hired.

Of the memories Billue has formed in staffing Price Rite she is proud to not only see how far employees have come, but how they are pushing the community forward.

A few weeks ago Twiggy witnessed one of the workers give exceptional customer service with a smile to customer. She watched the woman with tears in her eyes thank the cashier for being there, she explained that for 30 days she hadn’t been able to properly feed her kids because she couldn’t get to a grocery store.

She’s watched people in her neighborhood for the first time walk down the street with carts full of food.

Those kinds of scenes are what Billue, along with so many others consider an investment in their neighborhood and its people.

Photos: Scenes and shoppers at Price Rite

Price Rite

Photos: Stacy Fernández

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