Consolidation of the retail products in a Target Corp. store

Three projects in particular – the opening of two major supermarket chains and the physical consolidation of three different food companies under one roof – will improve access to fresh, healthy food and create new jobs in Newark.

(Tim Boyle / Bloomberg)

By Marco Navarro and Donna Leuchten

Economic development revives Newark. In addition to economic benefits, the development also promises to improve the health and wellbeing of Newark residents. Three projects in particular – the opening of two major supermarket chains and the physical consolidation of three different food companies under one roof – will improve access to fresh, healthy food and create new jobs in Newark.

With the help of the Reinvestment Fund’s New Jersey Food Access Initiative (NJFAI), supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the new businesses complement Newark’s other redevelopment activities. They provide essential amenities for those who live and work in the state’s largest city. The new projects supported by the NJFAI are great examples of how community leaders, philanthropic organizations, and socially conscious investors can work together to create positive change.

NJFAI is a funding program that promotes affordable, fresh and healthy food in underserved areas of New Jersey while driving economic development. To support the NJFAI, RWJF granted the Reinvestment Fund a grant and a low-interest loan. NJFAI uses the capital to provide low-interest, flexible financing for supermarket operators serving communities with limited access to supermarkets across New Jersey.

NJFAI is currently driving the conversion of the former Hahne and Company department store in Newark into mixed-use residential and retail space. First opened in 1901, the 440,000-square-foot structure will soon house 160 apartments, classrooms for Rutgers University, and ground floor retail space anchored by a Whole Foods Market. The grocery store will stock a large number of its own branded products to offer local residents a cheaper choice.

The whole foods will bring healthy areas to what the USDA has designated as a food wasteland, creating 200 new jobs. Retail tenants occupying floors above the store are expected to create an additional 200 jobs.

NJFAI also helped develop the Newark Farmers’ Market, a 90,000 square foot manufacturing and distribution center. The project brought three different food companies together under one roof so that they could double their capacity. The consolidation created 100 new full-time union jobs for Newark residents.

A new ShopRite opened late last month in a mixed-use development in the University Heights neighborhood of Newark. In addition to providing a full-service supermarket for 25,000 Newark residents who currently do not have access to one, the development includes 152 residential units.

Neil Greenstein, a third generation grocer with a strong commitment to the community, owns and operates Newark’s new ShopRite. He meets regularly with local residents to better understand their needs and preferences. Greenstein plans to source some of its products from the nearby Greater Newark Conservancy community garden. He is also committed to local recruitment and recruiting local residents for many of the store’s 300 full- and part-time union jobs.

An important innovation: the ShopRite will also provide a nutritionist to employees and other customers in the region, and around 700 square meters of the shop are earmarked for the integration of a state-qualified health center.

As in other places, these new stores will improve the Newark quality of life. They also show that when we pool our efforts, we can all make a difference in our communities. If we work together to improve the places we live, learn, work, and play, we can make Newark a healthier, happier place. Like any economic measure, it is this measure that signals the success of the city’s continued revitalization.

Marco Navarro is a Senior Program Officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Donna Leuchten is Director of Healthy Food Access at the Reinvestment Fund.

Follow The Star-Ledger on Twitter @starledger. Find the Star Ledger on Facebook.