I wrote a news piece on the opening of Aldi on Penn Avenue in Pittsburgh’s Garfield neighborhood. The opening of this grocery store filled what had been considered a ‘food desert’ and was a tremendously positive impact on the community.
Check out the piece below to learn more about Garfield’s residents’ reactions to the new grocery store.
“The Aldi on Penn Ave: ‘it’s in an area where it is well needed'”
by Danielle Levsky
The Aldi grocery store at 5200 Penn Avenue in the Garfield business district opened on November 11, approximately two months earlier than they originally intended. Earlier in the year, when the Bottom Dollar that previously stood in its place closed its doors on January 12, 2015, residents and public officials lobbied for a different grocer to replace them.
Aggie Brose, deputy director of the Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation, led the effort to find a grocery store to replace the vacancy left by Bottom Dollar, along with the support and encouragement of Small Business and Redevelopment Manager for the City of Pittsburgh Henry Pyatt.
“It’s like everything you asked for for Christmas,” Brose said. “It was a community effort and now the community is greatly benefiting by it.”
Brose elaborated that the new Aldi created more walking traffic on Penn Avenue, in turn creating more business for the various shops, restaurants and stores along the street.
“We knew that we were a food desert,” Pyatt said. “We knew the neighbors needed something to have access to, to not be travelling all over the place to get groceries.”
The Bloomfield-Garfield Corp. meets quarterly with Aldi staff and management, which both Brose and Pyatt reported on positively.
“We did have a couple of neighborhood concerns, like noise, parking concerns, normal stuff,” Pyatt said, “The store manager has been willing to talk through concerns. Aldi is more community oriented and easier to work with.”
This was the ninth Pittsburgh-area store that opened as part of Aldi’s 2015 accelerated growth plan to open 650 new stores by the end of 2018, with the final goal of having roughly 2,000 stores across the nation.
ALDI also is planning to invest more than $3 billion to pay for land, facilities and equipment. When the expansion is complete, ALDI will have stores coast to coast and anticipates serving more than 45 million customers per month. The expansion is expected to create more than 10,000 new jobs at ALDI stores, warehouses and division offices.
Before this Aldi location opened up, residents had to rely on the Giant Eagle on Shakespeare Street, which is 1.5 miles away, a 30-minute walk or 15-minute bus ride. An additional Giant Eagle Market District is located on Centre Avenue, along with an Aldi nearby on Baum Boulevard; they are 1.1 miles away. Still, there is no bus route that takes residents directly to the stores. In addition, buses often take longer outside of rush hour times so many residents end up waiting for buses for almost an hour.
Bloomfield/Garfield resident Paulette Poullet, were highly anticipating this new store. Poullet, who has been a resident of Bloomfield/Garfield for nine years, has many neighbors who are senior citizens and/or have limited mobility.
“This area was a food desert and it is great to have fresh produce nearby, “ Poullet said. “Having the Aldi in our community gives a family atmosphere and indicates that this a place where people live and thrive.
Teri Bridgett, who has been a resident of Garfield since 1975, felt the new Aldi was a “bright spot” in the neighborhood.
“I want to support it because I want it to stay,” Bridgett said.
Jacquea Olday, a six year resident of Garfield, used to frequent the Bottom Dollar before it closed down. Comparatively, she found Aldi to be much better in produce selection and price, even compared to Giant Eagle.
“Here, I can get chicken for 49 cents per pound and at Giant Eagle it’s 99 cents per pound,” Olday said.
After Bottom Dollar closed and Aldi had yet to open, Olday would walk to the Aldi on Baum Avenue for her groceries, often taking an Uber or jitney back to her home in Garfield. There was also the option of taking the 88/89 bus to grocery stores in East Liberty, but those buses did not run on weekends.
“It’s so much better to have fresh produce a short walk away,” Olday said.
While Robert Zacharias, a graduate student and a new resident of Garfield, buys many of his staples from Aldi, like certain produce and dairy products, he notes that there are “patchy stocking practices” and long checkout lines.
“I think it would be nice, and that customer service would also be better, if they had one or two more people on staff most of the time,” Zacharias said. “But they are obviously extremely cost-conscious in their business decisions, so I’m not surprised that they minimize the number of employees on duty.”
Aldi representatives were unable to reveal store-specific information on the number of shoppers the Garfield location receives each month. However, they noted that the Garfield location employs 14 people due to their “efficient approach to staffing, with associates trained in all store tasks.”
“But I can tell you that we’re thrilled with how much the Bloomfield-Garfield community has welcomed us,” Aldi Saxonburg Division Vice President J.R. Perry said. “We’re proud that we’re able to bring premium quality, affordable groceries to the neighborhood and we thank them for their continued support. “
Though Aldi could not share financial details or company goals as a privately held company, Perry said that Aldi pays employees market-leading wages and offers benefits above minimum wage requirements. Employees are rewarded with salary increases based on length of service and part-time staff working at least 25 hours per week also receive full health insurance benefits and dental coverage.
When inquired to comment, District Manager Trainee Stephanie Barrick said store manager Chuck Basso did not have clearance to speak on behalf of Aldi.
Pyatt, however, sees the Aldi as setting up their store to a certain model of efficiency. He observed Aldi’s efficiency standards when he witnessed how product was moved directly from the delivery truck to the product floor.
“X number of square feet equals x number of employees: it doesn’t always work that way,” Pyatt said. “They’re a good value on nutritious food. At the end of the day, that’s what is needed.”
In addition, Pyatt and Brose both highlighted an employment fair that was held by the Bloomfield Garfield Corp. and the East End Neighborhood Employment Center so Aldi would hire some of the neighbors.
As a self-proclaimed “amateur grocery store critic,” Kiesel found the selection at Aldi to be minimal, compared to the Bottom Dollar that once stood in its place. He recalled that the Bottom Dollar had more options in brand, style and size. Kiesel also commented that the produce selection and Hispanic foods section was superior in variety and quality.
“What other discount store can you buy dried chile pods from?” Kiesel said.
Despite a lack of chile pods, Aldi’s prices to fare better in comparison to surrounding grocery stores. For instance, a gallon of Friendly Farms 2% milk is $3.24 and a loaf of L’Oven Fresh White Bread is 85 cents. Just down a block at the Family Dollar, a gallon of Dean’s Dairy 2% milk is $3.50, a loaf of Schwebel’s Giant White bread is $2.99 or two for $4.00 and a loaf of Super Fresh Soft White Bread is $1.25. The Giant Eagle Market District on Centre Avenue sells a gallon of Dean’s Dairy 2% milk at $3.64 and Giant Eagle brand 2% milk at $3.24. As for white bread loaves, Schwebel’s Giant White bread is $2.49, King Size Giant Eagle White is $2.99, Wonder Classic White is $2.99 and Pepperidge Farm white goes for $3.79.
Leon Crosby, who was born, raised and stayed in Garfield for 30 years, has no complaints about the Aldi on Penn Avenue.
“I’m lovin’ it,” Crosby said. “It’s close, convenient and it’s in an area where it is well needed.”