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Residents Of New Jersey’s Largest City Fight For Hometown Groceries

March 30, 1987

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ Residents in the heart of the state’s largest city say the low-income area is improving, but lacks one basic convenience. The neighborhood where about 68,000 people live has no major supermarket.

″You take a supermarket for granted, but you learn around here that you don’t take anything for granted,″ said Mary Smith, a community leader in the city’s Central Ward.

Seven years ago, residents began talks with Pathmark stores to get a supermarket, but many are still taking buses to other towns to buy their groceries.

A community group has purchased 90 percent of a rundown block for a supermarket, but has been stuck in court for two years trying to oust property owners who are holding out.

The group, New Community Corp., also buses residents to supermarkets in nearby Belleville, said Joe Cheneyfield, corporation vice president.

The lack of a local supermarket means residents ″are not turning their money over in the community, so we remain poor,″ Cheneyfield said.

Race riots in the late 1960s prompted middle-class flight to the suburbs, and residents acknowledge that the ward has seen better days.

″You could hardly walk along the streets, they were so jammed with shoppers,″ said Monsignor William Linder of St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church, founder of New Community, which has erected 3,200 low-income residences in the midst of urban decay.

There used to be plenty of supermarkets, but ″now, there’s nothing,″ he said recently.

Small neighborhood stores charge high prices for mediocre goods, residents complain, and vendors sell at even higher prices from trucks parked along the city’s worn streets.

Roberta Singletary said if she shops in area stores, ″You can forget fresh vegetables.″

Two years ago, 12,000 people signed a petition calling for a modern supermarket.

A court ruled last month that the state Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, which is financing the supermarket project, can take the holdouts’ property under eminent domain.

Legal wrangling over technicalities has delayed the process, said Steve Hoskins, a New Community attorney.

One of the holdouts is Bert Schenkel, who operates a sandwich shop and leases property to a corner liquor store.

″That’s his life, he goes there every morning,″ said his attorney, Edward McKirdy.

But others say Schenkel stands in the way of the joint venture between New Community and Pathmark, in which the housing organization would hold two- thirds ownership.

The neighborhood has revived, Ms. Smith said.

″We brought back the old type of community, very supportive,″ she said. ″We’d lost that in Newark, but we brought it back.″

The neighborhood has everything ″except a quality shopping center. That’s the main issue,″ said Ms. Singletary.

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