Residents protest the absence of a grocery store in Montclair’s 4th Ward, since the closing of the Pathmark in 2015. Mollie Shauger/NorthJersey.com
At least two dozen people gathered in Lackawanna Plaza in Montclair on Sunday afternoon to share their frustration over the delay in securing a grocery store for the shopping center, located in Montclair’s 4th Ward.
The plaza has been void of a supermarket since the Pathmark closed in November of 2015.
Sunday’s demonstration, which started at the plaza before heading up Bloomfield Avenue, was meant to “raise awareness of this issue of food insecurity,” said 4th Ward resident and organizer Daniel Cruz. For many people in the area, the absence of an affordable grocery store has created a hardship for them, especially seniors, the disabled and those on limited incomes.
“I don’t drive anymore. I can’t walk far. I have no place to shop unless someone takes me,” said Elmwood Avenue resident Yvonne Golden, a senior citizen who described herself as “very dependent” and “very frustrated,” on Sunday.
Before the march started, 4th Ward Councilmember Renee Baskerville told the crowd gathered in the plaza that a “state of the art” ShopRite with a larger footprint than the former Pathmark is expected to occupy the site, along with more than 500 parking spaces, and 350 new residences.
“It’s going to have something for everyone,” she said of the store. However, she did not give a specific time frame, clarifying that the township doesn’t even have a redevelopment plan in place yet for the property in order to move forward.
Pinnacle Cos., which owns other properties in town and is currently working on plans to redevelopment the Wellmont Theater area, has partnered with The Hampshire Real Estate Cos. to bring a new tenant into Lackawanna Plaza.
While many have blamed the developers for the delay, Baskerville emphasized that the holdup is more at the municipal level.
Jen and Joe Estevez, who recently moved to Montclair, said they want to see the plaza area revitalized, especially since the township prides itself on being pedestrian-friendly.
“We think this neighborhood sorely needs another supermarket,” said Jen Estevez.
They said the Whole Foods further up Bloomfield Avenue is good for some shopping needs, but isn’t sufficient.
While many shoppers could take public transportation or taxi services, residents say those options cost extra money and time, and limit how much people can buy in one shopping trip.
When the Pathmark closed, “everything went downhill,” said Ben Ali Kassem, sitting in the plaza’s Dunkin’ Donuts. “The elderly doesn’t have that capacity to get to shopping centers.”
He said an NJ Transit bus comes once a day Monday through Friday, and stops at the plaza to pick up residents and taken them to the ShopRite in Bloomfied. But he pointed out that someone could miss the bus and then have no other transportation option.
He said the Pathmark was also convenient for residents of other towns like East Orange and Irvington. Customers could shop while doing laundry at the Laundromat in the plaza, he noted.
“Enough is enough. When is someone going to open up the gates and do something about this?” he asked.
Some people like Cleveland Powell, who’s retired and lives in Elmwood Avenue, have stepped up to assist senior citizens and residents who don’t have cars. He drives fellow citizens to nearby stores, including the ShopRite in Bloomfield.
“I’ve never seen a town that doesn’t have a supermarket, and it doesn’t make sense,” he said.
The Pathmark didn’t just serve people who live in the neighborhood, but also businesses and employees of the downtown area. Bruce Tyler, who works part-time at Trend Coffee and Tea House on Bloomfield Avenue, said he went to eight or nine places just to get milk when the cafe ran out one night.
“That’s the type of inconvenience you’ve had,” he said, nothing that many businesses bought supplies from Pathmark. He would even run over there for a quick lunch.
“Just the convenience of a neighborhood food retailer…you need it,” he said.
Clinton Lewis, a lifelong resident whose family owned businesses in town, echoed Tyler’s comments. A former caterer who now cooks at the First Montclair House on Walnut Street, Lewis said if he’s short on something, he has to go to either West Orange or Bloomfield to shop.
“Why do we have to spend our money in another town? It doesn’t make sense,” Lewis said.
He had been going to the shopping center almost 40 years, and had mastered the aisles at the Pathmark.
“It’s depressing to walk through those doors and see this,” he said.
Other organizations are helping to fill the void, especially for those who relied on the Pathmark a their source for food. Jose German of the Montclair-based Northeast Earth Coalition and Mary Z. Scotti of the NEEC and 73 See Gallery on Pine Street, spoke on Sunday about community gardens and other service endeavors they are managing in the town.
Trina Paulus, a 37-year resident of Montclair who spoke Sunday, recalled when she heard the Pathmark was closing and felt bad for those affected, including employees who would lose their jobs. She said a collective will between the local government and community can move things forward.
“I remember what the presidents said – if you want something, you have to push me. So we got to push, and this is an effort,” she said.
“We need a Fourth Ward grocery store that will intentionally accommodate the many roles our grocery stores have served over the years,” Baskerville said in a written statement. “They have been market places not only for food for our bodies, but market places for exchanges among and between residents—places where new ideas are germinated, information exchanged about community events and information.”
Cruz has also started a petition on change.org, requesting that the developers confirm their commitment “to the installation of a grocery store within 14 months with pricing that is convenient not just for the future of new migrants entering this town but affordable to current residents making $30,000 in a fiscal year.”
The petition also requests a farmer’s market be located in Lackawanna Plaza that would offer fresh produce, toiletries and other basic needs, as well as a ride-share program to access other supermarkets.
He said he was expecting 20 to 100 people on Sunday, but “anything is good to get the conversation going.”