Sam Lewis walked away from a trailer at the new Farmer Jack supermarket parking lot at the corner of Bancroft and Cherry streets yesterday with a job and peace of mind.
Mr. Lewis, who lives near Central Avenue and Lagrange Street, wanted a second job to supplement his income as a cook at a downtown restaurant.
“I remember when Roth Pontiac was here in the 1970s,” said Mr. Lewis, who will work in the produce section of the new store. “There's been nothing here since, except for a lot of abandoned homes. This will do nothing but improve the neighborhood.”
Bill Rixey, executive director of the Warren Sherman Area Council, the community development corporation that covers the area, hopes dozens of people from the area find jobs as Mr. Lewis did.
The Farmer Jack store, which is expected to open in November, is the latest in what community development corporations are hoping is the next step toward revitalizing central-city neighborhoods through economic development.
“People here want jobs,” Mr. Rixey said. “I think they will support Farmer Jack just like they've supported other ventures here.”
A Church's Chicken restaurant opened a block away from Farmer Jack this summer, in the Bancroft Franklin Plaza, and drew standing-room-only crowds for more than a month.
As successful community development corporations take on economic development as the next step toward bringing their neighborhoods back to life, the entry of a major supermarket chain into Toledo's central city will be watched closely.
“They decided to take a chance and come here,” Mr. Rixey said. “Farmer Jack is a major corporation. If they are successful, it will bring others in. Competition makes everybody better.”
Latasha Diggs, who was hired by Farmer Jack as a bagger, lives downtown. She said she used to drive five miles down the Anthony Wayne Trail to find a supermarket. She said the Farmer Jack will give her a place to shop as well as a job.
“I think this is a really good development because people are going to come here,” Ms. Diggs said. “A supermarket was really needed in this area. The other [supermarkets] are just too far away.”
Terry Glazer, executive director of the Lagrange Development Corp., said the new Farmer Jack is a credit to the Cherry Summit Bancroft Corridor Coalition. The coalition joins the combined efforts of five neighborhood groups - Lagrange, Warren Sherman, NorthRiver Development Corp., Toledo Olde Towne Community Organization, and Neighbors In Partnership.
“I think this is tremendously positive,” Mr. Glazer said. “This is the first full service central city supermarket in about a generation. We expect other development to occur. Employment to us is very important and we hope that Farmer Jack hires the people from the neighborhood.”
Mr. Rixey said more than 900 people had interviewed at Farmer Jack as of yesterday. The supermarket is offering 43 full-time and 120 part-time jobs. Representatives of the store could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Mr. Glazer said if the store hires mostly local residents, the neighborhood could benefit from about $3 million in annual salaries. He said construction of the store alone was about a $5 million investment.
Neighborhood development expert Tony Proscio, of New York, who just completed a study of Toledo's neighborhood community, said the entry of Farmer Jack into the central city is similar to what happened during Harlem's renewal two years ago in New York City.
He said Pathmark, a full service grocery store chain, built a supermarket on 125th Street, and it attracted people to the neighborhood and even brought others back to live.
“It was an immediate jolt to that community,” Mr. Proscio said. “It instantly transformed the quality of life there. It brought in a total of 200 jobs. That may not be much in New York City but in this area where there was nothing before, is was very significant.”
Mariea Carrington, a nearby neighborhood resident, said she has seen many elderly people catch the bus to shop at the larger supermarkets. She said the new store will make their lives much easier.
“It's especially difficult for them in the winter time,” Ms. Carrington said.
One group that will be watching Farmer Jack's development closely is Organizing Neighbors Yielding eXcellence, which has tried to bring a full service grocery store to the Dorr-Collingwood area for nearly two decades.
Christy Fletcher, executive director of the organization, said the people in the Warren Sherman and Lagrange neighborhood will support Farmer Jack like those in her neighborhood would support a full service supermarket.
“We still have a need here,” Ms. Fletcher said. “We have people moving into our area. The need that was here 10 years ago is even stronger now. They told us the lot we wanted for a supermarket was too small, but they are building Farmer Jack on a lot that was smaller than the one we still have available now.”