By Megan Sayles,
AFRO Business Writer,
The East Baltimore community is getting a new grocery store. Lidl is set to become an anchor tenant in the Perkins-Somerset-Oldtown (PSO) Transformation plan.
PSO residents have long faced a dearth of walkable, healthy food sources, all the while being able to easily access liquor and corner stores. Lidl, which is set to break ground in 2024, will be an oasis among the food desert conditions in the area.
“I can remember coming up in Baltimore, and if you were on Harford and Federal there was a Super Pride. If you were on Patterson Park and Chase, there was another Super Pride. If you were in the Church Square shopping center there was another supermarket,” said Maryland State Sen. Cory McCray (D- Dist. 45). “To watch these supermarkets remove themselves over the period of time that I’ve been living has been challenging. You wrestle with these types of things because you know so many things are tied to lack of access to healthy food options, such as obesity.”
McCray procured capital for the project through his Somerset Grocery Store Initiative, securing $1 million in Maryland’s fiscal year 2023 budget and $300,000 in the state’s FY 2024 budget. As it can be challenging to attract grocers to underserved urban areas, this funding served to incentivize Lidl.
“At the end of the day, they think about their bottom line, and there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s what they’re supposed to do,” said McCray. “You have to have a certain level of density. These problems are not complex on the outskirts of the city in the Northern part of Baltimore. It’s the heart of East Baltimore and West Baltimore where the density is not there.”
The broader PSO Transformation project will deliver more than 1,300 housing units—a fact McCray thinks provides a strong argument for the foot traffic Lidl will experience. He also noted that the grocery store will attract residents from nearby communities, like Johnston Square, Latrobe Homes and McElderry Park.
The family- and minority-owned Henson Development Co. is one of the leading developers on the PSO project and oversaw the deal with Lidl. Principal and vice president Dana Henson began talks with the company in 2017. At that point, the PSO site was mostly grass and dirt.
She said it was difficult to communicate Baltimore’s unique food-shopping habits to the grocer.
“I think unless you live in Baltimore, you don’t really understand the intricacies of Baltimore grocery shopping. I’ve lived in other cities as well, and we’re different here,” said Henson. “When I’ve lived in other cities, I shop at the grocery store closest to me, but I find that in Baltimore, we shop all over. We go to different grocery stores to get different things.”
Henson thinks by 2019, Lidl began to see and understand her vision. At that point, Henson Development Co. had opened the first section of Somerset Homes at 1234 McElderry St.
“I think it was more real for them to be able to see the project that I was previously showing them on paper,” said Henson. “Then they could also see that we were coming out of the ground on two other buildings because we started two and three around the same time.”
When the deal was finalized, she said it was difficult to relax after being entrenched in day-to-day negotiations for so long. But she said now is when the real work begins.
“I think developing at a high level for us, especially in the affordable sector, is important. But, to me, being able to provide healthy food to this area is one of the most impactful things that we can do. It’s long overdue,” said Henson. “I think it’s more than just providing a grocer to the area. It’s providing a full-service grocery store to a food desert, and it’s a proud achievement. It’s also delivering on the promises made to the community since 2015.”
Megan Sayles is a Report For America corps member.