Speaker after speaker at Thursday's celebration of the new Shop'n Save supermarket in the Hill District had the same refrain: relief and satisfaction that the project was completed after more than 10 years and a call for the neighborhood to make sure it supports the store.
If the opening-day response is any indication, that won't be a problem.
More than 150 people attended the ribbon-cutting event at the $12.5 million store in the Centre Heldman Plaza, across from the Hill House Association. The opening was the culmination of years of work to assemble a patchwork of public and philanthropic contributions to build the first full-service grocery in the neighborhood in 30 years.
The project was coordinated by the Hill House Association, which Cheryl Hall-Russell took over as president two years ago, as the project was in the midst of a series of starts and stops.
"Welcome to the Hill District Shop'n Save," she said to the crowd. "You have no idea how many times I practiced that line in my head and wondered if I would ever get to use it."
The supermarket building has an additional 6,900 square feet of space. Tenants Dollar Bank, Nationwide Insurance, Crazy Mocha Coffee, Subway and Cricket Communications have signed leases and are expected to open early next year.
Owner Jeff Ross of Ross Markets drew the loudest applause when he said the store's 125 employees are 95 percent minorities and 65 percent of them live in the Hill District. He also owns stores in McKeesport, Mount Pleasant Borough, Versailles and Connellsville.
Before the event, he called the opening "a long time coming." The 29,500-square-foot store features wide aisles and full deli, bakery and produce departments to eliminate the neighborhood's label as a "food desert."
"All of our stores are located in neighborhoods," Mr. Ross said. "We're real familiar with stores in small neighborhoods."
Lynette Watkins, 22, of Lawrenceville said she was impressed with the store's variety as she cradled arms full of juice, coffee creamer and other products. She said she was shopping for her mother, who lives a block away, and noted the store will be a convenience for the elderly people in the neighborhood.
"We've really waited to have this," she said.
Celezlie Brown of Rankin said the store is well situated for those who work Downtown, as she does, and encouraged others to take advantage of it.
"After 30 years of not having a store here, I'm glad to see this one open," said Ms. Brown, 54. "I hope everything works well. It's at the convergence of Downtown and the Hill District."
The close walking distance is a huge benefit to Daniel Lewis, 80, who lives four blocks from the store. He was buying fresh pork and chicken, something that hasn't been available in the neighborhood.
"I think it's real nice," Mr. Lewis said. "I will be coming down here regularly."
Bobbie Street, 66, of the Hill District was happy she could buy prepared chicken, in addition to her cart full of other groceries.
"It's good to be able to come right down the hill to get some good stuff," she said. "It's a blessing."
Political officials and neighborhood leaders hope the supermarket is the next step in revitalizing the community, following a new Carnegie Library and YMCA also on Centre Avenue. The Pittsburgh Penguins are finalizing plans for an office and residential complex four blocks away on about 28 acres of land where the Civic Arena used to be.
"When you see what's going on ... it's terrific," said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. "The best days of the Hill District are here and in the future."
Ed Blazina: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1470. First Published October 17, 2013 3:16 AM