NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Norfolk leaders are hoping a current food desert will turn into an oasis for a community in the southern part of the city.
A grocery store is coming to the Berkley area of Norfolk, more than three years after the former Farm Fresh closed there in 2018.
A big crowd gathered at the future Berkley Supermarket on 201 E. Berkley Avenue on Thursday to celebrate the announcement of the new store. It’s expected to open in August.
Bringing in a grocer has been a “top priority” for the city since the Farm Fresh closed. The cooperation agreement between the city and owner includes a $500,000 grant and a $400,000 forgivable loan if certain milestones are met.
Owner Mike Palmer says there’s also a around $5 million investment into the store.
“It’s a great feeling to know that we’re filling a void in this community that’s been without fresh food, fresh vegetables, fresh healthy food options. It’s a great feeling to help solve that problem,” he said.
Many in the community might already know Palmer. The Navy veteran is the owner of MP Island restaurant.
Palmer says he was excited to see the turnout for the store’s announcement.
“The turnout we had out in the rain, it’s unbelievable,” he said. “In the rain, these folks came out just to hear what we had to talk about with the supermarket coming.”
The weather did not stop many in the community who were instrumental in bringing the store.
After the Farm Fresh closing, the Berkley Beacon Light Civic League created a grocery store committee to work to open one. Shannel Lundy, who is the chairwoman of the committee, says today was a day to celebrate.
“It means our faith never dwindled. It means we stuck in there through the storm and the rain and now we got sunshine, a testament for today,” she said.
Christie Banks, who is a liasion on the committee agreed.
“Hope and perseverance,” she said. “If you put hope and action and the right people on your team, you can accomplish anything, anything. You have to keep God in your life.”
Mary Zackery, who lives in the community, also never gave up and attended City Council meetings to make sure the city remembered Berkley needed a store.
“It’s beautiful. It seems like my work wasn’t in vain completely. Sometimes I thought I was talking to a brick wall and they weren’t hearing me but anything worth having is worth fighting for,” she said.
The store will include the traditional grocery departments as well as gas service and a southern style restaurant.
Palmer’s son Esron says customers will be able to sit down and enjoy their meals or take food to go.
The 2020 Virginia Commonwealth University graduate says they wanted to do something different from traditional grocery stores and he’s glad that he’s able to help his family.
“Growing up in the businesses, seeing everything happening, that lead me to be a business major and coming out of college into this has been great,” he said.
The store is expected to open in August and is also looking to hire 60 new employees.
Palmer says they’ll look to hire those qualified within Berkley.
It’s a testament to what the community is trying to do by not only investing in businesses but the next generation by opening up employment opportunities.
“We’re invested in our community. We want this community to exist and prosper because of the people here, their children, and grandchildren. We love our community,” said civic league president Larry B. Skyles.
To learn more, check out their website here.