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Credit: Joy Lee

Fresh Grocer is fighting Penn’s termination of its lease and closure on March 31.

Penn, which is Fresh Grocer's landlord, claims that the store did not renew its lease on time and is arranging for a new operator, Acme Markets, to move in. 

According to the University, the decision to request proposals from new stores was made after Fresh Grocer did not renew its lease to operate Penn’s grocery store in Nov. 2015. Karen Meleta, a spokesperson for ShopRite, which is the larger chain that Fresh Grocer is affiliated with, disagrees.

“We do believe we notified them on time, but there is some discrepancy on what that period of time should have been and therein lies the difficulty,” Meleta said.

Fresh Grocer, which has been operating at this location since 2001, disputes this claim and is reaching out to customers, students and locals to sign a petition to keep the store. 

“Over 2,100 people have signed the in-store petition, and we have received over 30 letters of support,” Meleta said.

Students on campus are particularly concerned with the transition occurring in the middle of the semester. Fresh Grocer is open 24 hours a day and located within walking distance of the campus and many student residences.

College senior Wayne Schmitt, the founder of the Facebook group Free Food at Penn, is an outspoken advocate for food insecure students at Penn. He is concerned about the temporary shut-down of convenient access in the middle of the term. 

"People are going to have to take more time out of their day that could be used otherwise to make money or study.  They’re going to have to convert that time and energy to other things like planning out where they’re going to get their groceries from," Schmitt said. "Having this convenient store just close down and having us wait for a new one is going to be very complicated and everybody will be affected."

Dr. Karen Glanz, a Penn Integrates Knowledge professor in the Perelman School of Medicine, is running an NIH-funded study on healthy in-store marketing that includes this Fresh Grocer location. 

“In the research realm it’s really bad when people drop out of a study, but it’s even worse when one out of 32 stores, which represents a large number of consumers and customers, drops out," Glanz said. "It would be a great loss to the study and a loss to the community.”

A spokeswoman from Acme Markets, a regional subsidiary of Idaho-based Albertsons, confirmed that it is “in talks with the landlord” but could not give further detail about how long the transition would take.

In early 2016, the University asked for the community of active supermarkets in Philadelphia to submit proposals if they had interest in the space.

“After an extensive review of all proposals, including the proposal submitted by the Fresh Grocer, Penn began lease discussions with a new operator and will soon announce plans with this operator for an exciting, upgraded state-of-the-art urban supermarket at the 40th and Walnut location," Facilities and Real Estate Services said in a press release. 

The statement went on to say that the store "will not only feature a multi-million dollar investment to upgrade the existing facility, but will also provide industry leading wages to its employees while meeting Penn’s local employment goals.”

Schmitt was concerned about the University’s lack of communication and lack of student input with regard to the change of grocer.

“I didn’t even know until I walked into the Fresh Grocer and saw the big sign...otherwise I would have never known and they would have just closed the store," Schmitt said. "No emails, nothing. I wonder if they understand the full extent to which the Fresh Grocer is a resource for us to get food.”

FRES was not immediately available for comment.