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The Fresh Grocer is going to be replaced by Acme, which is expected to open in October. Credit: Kylie Cooper

After months with a barren corner of 40th and Walnut Streets, which has led to difficulties buying groceries, the Penn and West Philadelphia communities can now expect a new Acme store in October.  

The store will feature a beer and wine shop, indoor and outdoor seating, and a Starbucks, Acme Communications and Public Affairs Manager Dana Ward wrote in an emailed statement to The Daily Pennsylvanian.

Though a 2017 joint press release with the company and the University said the store would be open 24 hours, Ward wrote on June 4 that due to COVID-19, all 24-hour Acme locations were instructed to close at midnight. It is unclear when or if those locations will go back to being open 24 hours, she said.

"We are excited to have ACME’s commitment to delivering an excellent all-around experience for our shoppers align with Penn’s commitment to providing a high-quality grocery store to the residents of University City, including the campus community," Executive Director of Real Estate in Facilities and Real Estate Services Ed Datz wrote in a June emailed statement to the DP.

The replacement comes after a four-year legal battle between the University and the Fresh Grocer, which officially shut its doors on March 7, despite heavy pushback from students and local residents, who cited the lengthy transition period without a grocery store and Acme’s high prices, compared to Whole Foods, Aldi, and Trader Joe’s grocery stores.

To help curb student frustration and alleviate inconveniences caused by the Fresh Grocer's abrupt closure this spring, the store offered e-commerce through its website, Instacart shopping services, and a complimentary Lyft transportation service to other store locations, Fresh Grocer's parent company Metro City Management Marketing Director Carly Spross told the DP in February.

Spross did not respond to a request for comment in June 2020 regarding whether the complimentary transportation service was affected by the pandemic. 

Similar to accommodations made by the Fresh Grocer, Director of Communications for Facilities and Real Estate Services Jennifer Rizzi also wrote in an emailed statement to the DP in February that Penn Bus East would have a designated stop at South Square Market beginning March 9. 

The Undergraduate Assembly also announced Penn Transit would extend the Trader Joe’s shuttle pilot program from February 1 to April 4, among other modifications to Penn Transit’s schedules and routes.

“Penn Transit suspended some services and limited others in response to the public health emergency,” Datz wrote in an emailed statement to the DP in June. He added that the University will continue to work with public health officials to determine how and when services will resume.

Credit: Sukhmani Kaur Heirloom Market is located in University City.

With the Penn Transit suspensions and lack of a local grocery store, many affected residents and students have been forced to travel farther to retrieve groceries amid restrictive stay-at-home orders and other public health guidelines. 

Although she found items to be slightly more expensive at Giant's Heirloom Market than at Fresh Grocer, rising College junior Evelyn Bond said she did most of her grocery shopping at the Market on 34th and Chestnut Street because she found its University City location more convenient than walking to a farther grocery store. Though she said she usually prefers shopping at Trader Joe’s, the suspension of the UA shuttle service impeded her ability to shop there.

Rising College junior Jonathan Scotto, who works and shops at Trader Joe’s in Center City, said he was also affected by the lack of UA shuttle. Before ultimately moving to Center City in May, he relied on SEPTA to travel to and from his work at the store, which he said was an anxious experience because of overcrowding as well as unregulated mask usage on the trains. 

Scotto said these issues were due to SEPTA route consolidations and “equity and socioeconomic issues that come into play with requiring a mask to use public transportation.”

While he acknowledged the importance of taking public transportation to better integrate with the larger Philadelphia community, he said the University has an obligation to keep its students safe, and that includes grocery shopping in light of its decision to “close the only grocery store on campus in the middle of the semester.”

“A pandemic is not the time to stop that shuttle service, where they have unlimited access to help people socially distance themselves,” he said. 

Rising College junior J’Aun Johnson said he also found the Trader Joe’s in Center City and the Aldi on 44th and Market Streets too distant from University City to shop at frequently. He said he mostly shopped at Supremo on 43rd and Walnut Streets, which he said is “subpar in quality, variety, organization, and timeliness.”

Although Johnson said he “doesn’t particularly love” the higher price point of Acme, he said he is looking forward to its arrival on campus.

“Now is the most effective time to begin transforming the vacant store into a new Acme,” he said. “Without it, I'm really not sure how the student body will be sustained.”

Bond said the lengthy transition period between Fresh Grocer’s closure and Acme’s opening does not just affect the Penn community, but also the larger West Philadelphia community.

“Given the lack of students currently on campus, and the sanctions in place regarding construction, there is most likely a decreased incentive with continuing the construction,” Bond said. “I’m sure parts of the West Philadelphia community are suffering due to the lack of grocery stores in University City.” 

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