By LINDA MOSS
Roughly two dozen demonstrators, many chanting and carrying placards, on Sunday afternoon marched down Bloomfield Avenue and through Montclair’s center business district to protest the delay in getting a supermarket to replace the closed Pathmark at Lackawanna Plaza.
The group, organized by Fourth Ward resident Daniel Cruz, took time to briefly stop at the Bloomfield Avenue offices of Montclair developer Pinnacle Cos., one of two companies that are undertaking the stalled redevelopment of Lackawanna Plaza, where a Pathmark closed in November 2015.
“Brian Stolar you can’t hide, now it’s time to organize,” the marchers chanted, referring to Pinnacle’s chief executive officer.
The protestors carried signs that said “No more food desert” and “Fair food for Montclair,” and they also chanted, “Why are we in a bad mood? Montclair has no food.”
Cruz has organized a petition drive and is circulating a survey regarding the future of Lackawanna Plaza and how residents can be best served until a replacement for the Pathmark comes in. He has described the area near the former grocery store as a “food desert” because some of the township’s most vulnerable, the elderly and the poor, no longer have convenient access to affordable food.
“A lot of people are affected by the issue of food insecurity,” Cruz said.
He and Fourth Ward Councilwoman Renee Baskerville addressed the crowd that gathered inside the nearly empty shopping center on Bloomfield Avenue to talk about options, including a ride-sharing program and farmers’ market, to enable residents who don’t have vehicles to get food and transportation to area supermarkets, such as the Brookdale ShopRite in Bloomfield.
Cruz also added a new suggestion to his list: That Montclair restaurants donate their unused food at the end of the day to the needy. He said he will also ask the Township Council if small plots of land the municipality owns can be used for community gardens.
Baskerville, who for several years has been at the forefront of getting the Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment moving along, updated the group about the slow-moving status of the redevelopment project.
“Many of us are disturbed that we’ve been about two years without having a grocery store here, and that many of us are at a point in time now where we realize we no longer accept this quietly,” she said, describing the old Pathmark and bustling Lackawanna Plaza as a much-missed meeting and gathering place for the community.
Officials at Pinnacle and its partner, Hampshire Cos. of Morristown, have said they are in talks with ShopRite but no where near a closed deal.
“I believe in all sincerity that we will have a ShopRite here,” Baskerville said, later adding, “there are layers of bureaucracy that tend to show it (the redevelopment process) down.”
ShopRite would require 550 parking spaces, Baskerville said. A preliminary plan submitted by Pinnacle and Hampshire calls for a large supermarket retail anchor and residences on both sides of Grove Street at the Lackawanna site, with several floors of apartment units above the store, and parking.
“The design, I thought, was very tasteful,” she said.
The councilwoman said action on Lackawanna Plaza was delayed, in part, because its wasn’t until earlier this year that the council told the developers that it wasn’t going to relocate the municipal complex and Township Police headquarters to the site. The township had considered such a relocation, but decided against it after weighing financial considerations.
There are have been numerous meetings regarding Lackawanna Plaza since Pathmark closed due to the bankruptcy of its parent, A&P, Baskerville said, including one she held in February. Right now there isn’t even a redevelopment plan for Lackawanna Plaza, a document that details how developers must proceed in such a project. Officials have estimated that it will take two to three years to get Pathmark’s replacement built.
Township Mayor Robert Jackson has said he would like to see the redevelopment project fast-tracked. The muncipality does provide bus service for senior citizens to the Brookdale ShopRite once a week.
After the remarks Sunday, the protesters walked down Bloomfield Avenue to Pinnacle’s offices, then continued down to Church Street, cutting through past the Clairidge Theater — where the Montclair Film Festival had a screening — and then came back on Bloomfield Avenue past Pinnacle to end at Lackawanna Plaza.
The marchers included Tess Fils-Aime and her 8-year-old-son Reeves. They have lived in Montclair since 2011, and she said that she would be able to make quick shopping trips to the Pathmark when her son was at the nearby YMCA.
David Wasmuth, who lives nearby Lackawanna Plaza on Grove Street, was at the protest in sympathy for the plight of his neighborhood and its current food-desert status.
“There are a lot of people here who don’t have cars, and they depended on Pathmark for their basics,” he said. “It’s not a wealthy neighborhood. There are not a lot of people who can afford to do all their shopping at Whole Foods, the only walk-able option … It’s really bad for the neighborhood.”
Cleveland Powell was at the rally inside Lackawanna Plaza, and said he has been giving the elderly without cars lifts to the Brookdale ShopRite and Shop & Shop in Bloomfield so they can buy groceries.
Bruce Tyler, a lifelong Montclair resident, said that Pathmark’s demise not only affects residents but businesses. He works part-time at Trend Coffee & Tee House, and said that he recently had to go to several spots before he could find a place to buy milk for the shop when it ran out.
There were about 50 people at the plaza when Baskerville, Cruz and several others spoke to the group. But only about half of them actually went on the march.
In addition to Cruz and Baskerville the speakers included Jose German-Gomez, president of the Northeast Earth Coalition Inc., and Trina Paulus.