By LINDA MOSS
Izonie Ball, 87, wonders if she and some of her peers will still be alive by the time a supermarket comes in to replace the closed Pathmark at Lackawanna Plaza.
“There’ll probably be a lot of people dead … I’ll probably be one of them,” Ball said.
She meets and socializes with friends every week at the Wally Choice Community Center at Glenfield Park, as part of a senior citizen group called the “Do-Drop-In.” For those older residents, and some other people around town, Pathmark’s closing in November 2015 created a hardship as they now must make special arrangements to get one of life’s basic necessities: food.
It’s been most burdensome for those living near Lackawanna who used to walk to Pathmark — like seniors and some of the town’s poorer residents — because they can’t drive or don’t have vehicles. Some people are using taxis, a pricey option for anyone on a fixed income, to go buy groceries, with at least one elderly woman paying $24 round-trip to go to Acme on Valley Road. One man has walked to and from his residence, a four-hour trek, to shop at the Brookdale ShopRite in Bloomfield. Others are making do by picking up items at the CVS on Claremont Avenue or at local convenience stores — places where the selection is small and prices are high. Some are now having their groceries delivered by services such as Peapod.
“People who never used the Lackawanna space don’t necessarily understand the full impact it has had on this community,” said Daniel Cruz, an activist who would like to see a farmers’ market open at Lackawanna. “And there’s no way for them to understand because they don’t live here.”
The township has provided assistance for seniors needing transportation to grocery stores, including free bus service to the Brookdale ShopRite, but some elderly residents don’t feel comfortable using such buses or say it is too complicated to figure out the schedules. Some don’t want to have to wait for others to finish shopping before they can take the bus home, while yet others are not healthy enough to walk around for long periods of time.
“They want to get in and get out,” Tamika Jackson, social services coordinator at PineRidge of Montclair, a senior facility.
Others claim they have to make reservations too far in advance, 48 hours, for one of the buses, or fear they will be stranded if they miss the bus back.
Developers are in talks with ShopRite for one of its grocery stores be the anchor tenant, essentially replacing Pathmark, for the planned redevelopment of Lackawanna Plaza on Bloomfield Avenue. Community members and Fourth Ward Councilwoman Renée Baskerville have voiced their frustration about how long it is taking for that redevelopment process to get going. Mayor Robert Jackson has noted that the 2015 bankruptcy of Pathmark’s parent, A&P, and its legal issues created complications in the process.
Some critics, especially in the Fourth Ward, question why their part of town has been left a virtual “food desert,” a term for areas where residents don’t have access to the affordable fruits, vegetables and other foods that make up a healthy diet. When the A&P on Valley Road in Upper Montclair closed in 2015 because of its parent company’s bankruptcy, it was quickly replaced by an Acme, said William Scott, chair of the Montclair NAACP’s housing committee.
He estimated that it will be at least five years from when Pathmark closed to when the Lackawanna development is completed, with a new grocery store.
“That’s inexcusable,” he said.
In the meantime, that part of the township is not only missing convenient access to groceries but also lost jobs and what was a impromptu gathering place for residents, according to Scott. And most of the other shops that were at Lackawanna Plaza have closed since Pathmark shuttered its doors, he said.
In addition to Acme, Montclair has a Whole Foods Market and Kings Food Market, but those supermarkets are pricier than the Pathmark, not affordable for some residents.
Al Pelham, president of the Montclair chapter of the NAACP, like Scott called Pathmark’s prolonged absence a continuing hardship to the section of the municipality near Lackawanna Plaza.
“I would think that the majority of the poorest folks in the community live in this part of town. … Your options are to get to the ShopRite in Bloomfield or catch a bus and go down to the Foodtown, also in Bloomfield. Whole Foods up Bloomfield Avenue is out of the question because you’re priced out of it.”
There are both affordable and senior citizen residences close to Lackawanna Plaza, with the First Montclair House on Walnut Street and PineRidge of Montclair at the corner of Pine Street and Glenridge Avenue, housing for “most vulnerable populations,” according to Pelham.
“If Kings got eliminated or Acme got eliminated in Upper Montclair the outrage would be crazy,” he said. “It’s only right to have, in this area of town, a quality supermarket for this population. They deserve it just like other people in other parts of town deserve it.”
At the Do-Drop-In gathering Myrna Hinton, 84, said she used to walk to shop at Pathmark. She doesn’t like the inconvenience of being dropped off by bus at the Brookdale ShopRite and then having to wait to be picked up. So now, Hinton said, she takes a taxi to go to Acme.
“When I do my shopping I pay $24 to ride,” she said.
Katherine Nicholas, 73, senior activity coordinator at the Wally Choice Center, lives in the Montclair Mews right near Lackawanna Plaza. She used to walk to Pathmark, but now said that she finds herself going to neighboring Bloomfield to grocery shop, at Aldi, SuperFresh and Stop & Shop rather than “pay through the nose” at nearby small convenience stores.
At First Montclair House, residents Tiffani Waters, 34, and Carl Carlson, 52, used to frequent Pathmark. Since it closed it’s been difficult for them, since neither one has a car. Waters would go to Pathmark every day to pick up lunch and meals to bring with her to Montclair State University, where she was a student at the time. Then Waters, who has multiple sclerosis and uses a four-wheeled walker, would catch the NJ Transit bus to the school.
She has taken AccessLink transportation and public buses to the Brookdale ShopRite, but at times has had trouble getting back home to First Montclair House. Waters said the NJ Transit bus stops aren’t clearly marked, and once she tried to walk home from the ShopRite. She ended up having to call China Flowers, program director at First Montclair House, to pick her up.
Carlson has been stymied by the various “complicated” services to get the Brookdale ShopRite. So several times he walked, a 4-mile round trip, taking a cart to tote his groceries.
“It took me two hours to get there and two hours to get back,” Carlson said.
In the winter Carlson said he often went to local convenience store and “lived off canned food.” Now he has qualified to get groceries at an area food pantry, and goes there as well as taking the NJ Transit bus to Acme at times.
Robin Woods, a Montclair Mews resident, has groceries delivered to her home now that Pathmark is gone, forgoing bus service to the Brookdale ShopRite.
“I don’t want to worry about when I’m getting picked up, when I’m getting dropped off, being stranded there,” she said. “And why should I shop in another town?”
Many elderly residents at the Montclair Mews have also switched to home delivery, as well, according to Woods. She has also noticed that her neighbors in their 40s and 50s are using Amazon Prime to get their groceries.
With services such as FreshDirect and Peapod, Woods said, “I’m spending less because I can only buy what’s on the screen.”