During the online semester when campus is closed and in-person events are scarce, Acme Markets' grand opening at 40th and Walnut streets is one of few anticipated events for Penn students living near campus. Ahead of Acme’s official opening Friday at 6 a.m., company leadership granted The Daily Pennsylvanian access to the store to present its various amenities.
The supermarket, which will replace The Fresh Grocer after its closure in March, features a variety of take-out stations including sushi and poke bowl, Asian hot eats, focaccia pizza, and BBQ. The Walnut Street location also boats Acme's first-ever Sally the Robot salad station, at which customers can input their salad preferences onto a touch screen, prompting the machine to make the salad accordingly.
The store, which will operate daily from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., also has a bakery, seafood section, beer and wine section, and an in-store Starbucks.
“Acme Markets fits right in the mix as a local icon serving Philadelphia neighborhoods for over 100 years,” Executive Director of Real Estate in Facilities and Real Estate Services Ed Datz wrote in an email to the DP on Oct. 21. “They are dedicated to bettering the lives of people in our community and nourishing our neighbors, a valuable partnership at any time but especially appreciated during these days in a pandemic environment.”
Acme will provide a variety of exclusive opening-week promotions, such as $50 worth of groceries for free to its first 200 to 250 customers, and bags of vegetables and fruits called ''buck-a-bags," which will only cost $1 for the first week. The in-store Starbucks will also run promotions, such as $2 for any grande size Starbucks drink and one free tall coffee with any one-pound bag of coffee beans, for the first two weeks after opening.
Acme Communications and Public Affairs Manager Dana Ward said the company has tailored this Acme location to serve the needs of the Penn community.
“This is a first-class, urban experience compared to any of our suburban locations," she said. "More than half of the store is fresh and ready-to-go products, because we know Penn students and Penn faculty, and if you're working at the hospital or just in the community, you want to come in, grab what you need, and go."
The store currently has 200 employees, about 75% of which are newly trained hires, Store Director Andy Weis said. The remaining 25% are existing Acme employees that have transferred to the new location. All are well-versed in daily COVID-19 protocols such as taking temperatures of employees and securely packaging and gating food products, Weis said.
“COVID-19 is a big deal for us: sanitizing, making sure that everything is safe, and wiping down handles every hour,” he said. “We just want to make sure this is a safe place for our customers but also for our employees.”
Acme's opening has been long-awaited by the Penn and Philadelphia community. News of Acme’s arrival to campus first broke in 2017. Following a four-year legal battle between the University and The Fresh Grocer, The Fresh Grocer announced in February 2020 it would close its doors after nearly 20 years of business.
Students living near campus are celebrating Acme's opening with friends and have even made plans to visit the store as soon as its doors open Friday at 6 a.m.
College sophomore Mary Greeley was pleasantly surprised by news of the October opening, expecting the COVID-19 pandemic to further delay construction. She and several of her friends have decided to go to the store at 6 a.m. in order to “celebrate the small things in life.” The group even made plans to stay awake all night, but Greeley said they will “play it by ear.”
“Acme is really good at providing not only non-organic produce, but also the organic alternatives in case you want to get organic food,” Greeley said, making the distinction between Giant Heirloom Markets at 34th and Chestnut streets, which she said has an “overwhelming” amount of organic food.
She added that she frequently shops at an Acme near her home in South Philadelphia, and hopes the Walnut Street location will deliver the same high-quality produce and experience.
While students praise the store's convenient location for those who live on the west side of campus, they have also raised concerns over its affordability and low starting wage for its employees.
For College junior Emilie Dávila, who lives on 41st and Walnut streets, it’s all about convenience. After being disappointed with the high prices at Heirloom, she hopes the prices at Acme will be comparable to those at The Fresh Grocer.
When The Fresh Grocer announced its closure this spring, students were frustrated over losing the convenience of 24/7 service and more affordable items. In 2018, Philadelphia Magazine found Acme to be more expensive than Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Aldi.
Engineering junior Jacob Brown also found the store's location convenient, noting that Aldi, the grocery store he has frequented since The Fresh Grocer’s closure, is at least a 15-minute walk from his apartment. He expressed concerns, however, with Acme’s starting wage of $9 an hour for employees, as advertised on fliers plastered throughout University City.
“That’s not really a living wage during a pandemic, so I don’t want to support businesses that don’t pay that if I can avoid it, especially because Aldi is there as an alternative anyway,” Brown said.
Both Aldi at 46th and Market streets and Supremo Food Market at 43rd and Walnut streets list wages above $10 an hour, according to various salary comparisons. Philadelphia’s minimum wage is $7.25 an hour as of Jan. 1, 2020 — the lowest minimum wage of any major American city, according to a May study by the non-profit Pew Charitable Trusts.
Ward said the terms of the company’s wages are part of its collective bargaining agreement with UFCW Local 1776 Keystone State of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.
"We are trying to be as competitive as possible and working on those agreements so that we can make it a little bit better of a situation for everyone," she said.
The company also announced in a press release provided to the DP by Ward that it would donate a total of $50,000 to local hunger programs supporting the West Philadelphia community, including the Share Food Program, Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger, Netter Center for Community Partnerships, Philadelphia Home & School Council, and Together for West Philadelphia.
“Our new store celebrates our customers, and we are thrilled to offer them such a fantastic new shopping experience,” Acme President Jim Perkins said in the press release. “We look forward to continuing to bring the best of Acme to the residents of University City and West Philadelphia for many years to come.”