By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
Come August there will one less neighborhood deemed a food desert in Norfolk when the Berkley Supermarket and Restaurant will open its doors in the Berkley Shopping Center.
Michael Palmer, President of P3 properties, the company operating the store, said he will be holding a press conference on June 4th to update the community about the details for the upcoming grand opening of the facility.
Palmer said he will be accompanied by leaders from the city, including the mayor, the Berkley Community, newly hired staff, and family members who will part of the employee team operating the facility.
Palmer said the Berkley Supermarket will be a traditional neighborhood supermarket, providing meat, poultry, dairy, fresh vegetables, and other stables found in other grocery outlets in the city.”
“I just want to reassure people that we are opening and tell them about the different services we will providing them,” said Palmer.
“Many people were unsure about the kinds of food and services we will provide at the store. I just want to reassure them because the people of Berkley have been very supportive of what we are doing.”
He also said that a restaurant with soul food cuisine is being planned for the store providing affordable dishes for dining for lunch and dinner.
Palmer said he has been busy working with city inspectors, and contractors, installing new equipment he has secured, updating power systems, and other infrastructure needed to operate the store when it opens in August.
He said he and the staff have been lining up suppliers for all of the various food departments in the store.
Palmer said recruiting and securing suppliers for the Berkley Supermarket is far easier than for his MP Island Restaurant he and his family operate. The supply chain for the mostly Caribbean cuisine of the MP Restaurant is not as broad as the one for a traditional supermarket, he said.
About 40 people will be hired to operate various departments at the store, along with his son Esron Palmer, who recently graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) with a management Degree. Enron Palmer will be the Assistant Manager at the store.
Three years after Farm Fresh closed the doors of its grocery store in Berkley, the city, and leaders of that community launched an effort to recruit a grocery to fill the vacancy at the Berkley Shopping Center.
Farm Fresh closed its Berkley store and several others in the region over three years ago. In the St. Paul’s area, the community lost the Save-A-Lot Grocer suddenly last June.
Both areas were placed on the list of Norfolk neighborhoods called “food deserts” because they had no major supermarket to provide fresh foods and vegetables within walking distance or a brief car ride.
Residents in Berkley were relegated to traveling several miles to a grocer in Chesapeake. Some even traveled to the Save-A-Lot before it was closed.
In March the city unveiled the outline of plans to bring a grocery store to Berkley with the council approving a plan in coordination with the city’s Economic Development Authority.
According to Mayor Kenneth C. Alexander, the agreement involved some $900,000 in financial incentives for the grocer to open the store and maintain its operation.
Of that $900,000, the supermarket operator may be eligible to receive from the city, $400,000 as a forgivable loan.
The rest, according to the mayor, $500,000, is a performance-based grant, based on the operator’s ability to sustain the operation of the facility.
Also, it will be used to help with improving the supermarket space and adding inventory and equipment.
The council approved the $400,000 from the city’s coffers, along with the $500,000 from the city’s Economic Development Authority.
Norfolk Councilman Paul Riddick, who represents the area, said when Farm Fresh left the store it stripped it of all the equipment needed to operate the facility. So money will be used to replace all of it.
Mayor Alexander said after Farm Fresh closed its Berkley store and others it had in the region, Berkley residents “came in droves to the council asking us to get them a grocery store.”
“This is long overdue,” said Alexander. “This is one of the food deserts in our city which will now get a grocery store. Residents will be able to walk and buy fresh food and buy lunch or dinner This area is home to some of the oldest and largest companies in the city.
So, they will benefit too.”
Alexander pointed out that five major ship maintenance and repair operations have employees who will be able to use the grocery as well.
“You have to give credit to the community; they worked and pushed for it,” said Riddick. “But the corporate grocery stores must realize instead of us having to go to them, they have to go to our neighborhoods. Why do we have to get in the car and drive miles just to buy groceries?
Two years ago, residents in Berkley formed a grocery store committee, in conjunction with the Beacon Light Civic League.
They joined forces to orchestrate a community campaign to lobby the city to bring a grocery store back to the area.
Shannel Lundy is the chair of the panel and Larry Skyles is President of the Beacon Light Civic League and a Grocery Store Committee member.
They said leaders of the committee maintained communications with the owner of the Shopping Center, Wheeler Real Estate Company in Norfolk.
The two leaders said they commend Wheeler, the civic league, the mayor, Riddick, and other council members for their persistence in recruiting a new grocery store to Berkley.
Lundy said that even during this “long period” of being in a food desert, various churches, and other organizations in the community worked hard to assure that the elderly and other people got the food they needed, with pantries and other resources.”
“That kind of community effort and concern you cannot pay for,” said Lundy. “It has been a long time. This is more than about business; it is community. We want to put our best foot forward to assure we do the best for our community.”
Christie Banks is on the Grocery Store Committee and a member of the Beacon Light Civic League. She is also the granddaughter of George Banks who died last December.
She said that her grandfather worked tirelessly to see a grocer return to the “the community he loved.”
“Even in his last days, when I talked with him, he asked me ‘what’s the latest on the grocery store’?” said Christie Banks. “Now that it is about to happen, I know he is sitting up in heaven smiling down us.”