Ever since the Superfresh closed in November 2015, Bonnie and Perry Morse have been counting the days until a new grocery store opened in Fairfield Shopping Center.

“We’ve been waiting three years and three months,” Bonnie said, without hesitation, as she and her husband shopped at the new Food Lion moments after the store opened its doors for the first time Wednesday morning. “I’m a late riser, but I got up early for this.”

The Morses, who live in the Amaranth neighborhood off New London Road, said that after Superfresh closed, they either had to go across town to Acme or head north to a grocery store in Jennersville, Pa.

“We’re ecstatic to have a grocery store in our neighborhood,” Perry said.

The Morses were among dozens of people who attended the Food Lion’s grand opening ceremony, some arriving more than an hour early to wait in the cold. By the time the doors opened at 8 a.m., the line wrapped around to the side of the building.

The first 100 customers received a $10 gift card, and Newark High cheerleaders and YoUDee entertained patrons while they waited.

The 35,000-square-foot store, which employs 85 people, is the second Food Lion in the greater Newark area, joining one in Pencader Plaza near Brookside. The Food Lion is larger than Superfresh was, combining the old Superfresh space with the former Dollar General space next door.

Fairfield Shopping Center had been without an anchor since Superfresh closed after its parent company Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, Inc. — commonly known as A&P — filed for bankruptcy.

Acme had announced plans to take over the store along with the A&P-owned Pathmark in College Square Shopping Center. However, while the Pathmark was quickly converted to an Acme, the company never went through with the purchase of Superfresh.

For two years, the vacant Superfresh was the subject of rumors and speculation as residents of Fairfield, Fairfield Crest and other surrounding neighborhoods bemoaned the loss of the nearby grocery store. Various city officials lobbied shopping center owner Ernie Delle Donne, privately and publicly, to bring another market to the shopping center. The Food Lion was finally announced in late 2017.

"It's a long time coming," said Councilman Jason Lawhorn, who lives in Fairfield. "The residents of Fairfield and Fairfield Crest are excited for the opening. There's definitely been a lot of chatter about it."

The opening is particularly important to seniors and residents with disabilities who relied on having a supermarket within walking distance, Lawhorn said. Many of those people moved to the area specifically because of the proximity to the Superfresh, he added.

First in line to enter the store on Wednesday were Jane Taylor and Sally Axenroth.

“This is a big event for this area,” said Axenroth, adding she is glad she no longer has to endure rush-hour traffic on Cleveland Avenue to go grocery shopping at College Square. “We were spoiled by having a grocery store here.”

Debbie Mumford excitedly stepped out of line to hug Food Lion’s lion mascot. She noted she grew up going to the store decades ago when it was an A&P.

“It’s so close to my mom’s house,” she said. “It’s a safe, and now beautiful, shopping center.”

The opening of the Food Lion is also a boon for residents of Pennsylvania who head down to Newark for tax-free shopping.

“When this was a Superfresh, I’d come down all the time,” said Julie Aliberti, of Landenberg, Pa. “I’ve been waiting for something to come in.”

Shopping center undergoes $4.5 million renovation

The new grocery store was only part of the rejuvenation of Fairfield Shopping Center. The aging shopping plaza, which dates back to the 1960s, underwent a much-needed $4.5 million renovation project, which included paving the parking lot, putting on a new roof, upgrading the lighting and modernizing the façade.

“Today is an exciting day for the Delle Donne family,” said Gary Ciaffi, senior vice president of Delle Donne and Associates. “This center is one of the core assets that helped launch the company.”

While the closing of Superfresh frustrated customers, it was a blessing in disguise for the shopping center, he said.

“The center was encumbered by that lease for a long time. We really weren't able to do much with the center until that lease matured,” Ciaffi said.

The company’s next task is finding a tenant for the standalone building formerly occupied by PNC Bank. There are a couple possible tenants who have shown interest, but no deal has been signed, Ciaffi said.

“We’d love to do a coffee shop,” he added. “I think the community has really reached out and said, ‘We’d love to see some kind of coffee shop there.’ That would be the first kind of use we would see if we can pursue.”

For other merchants in the shopping center, the renovations are a welcome change.

“It’s been a tough three years,” said Jay Patel, manager of Fairfield Liquors. “Paving the parking lot and improving the lighting makes it safer at night.”

He said he hopes the renovations and the opening of Food Lion will mean an increase in customers.

“Bringing this aging plaza back to what it was is amazing,” he said.

Pete Upadhyay, who has owned Fairfield News since 2001, said he saw a noticeable decrease in business after the closure of the Superfresh and particularly the PNC Bank, which was nearest to his store.

“We’re all waiting for something better than it used to be,” Upadhyay said.

Chris Denney, co-owner of the Wooden Wheels bike shop, which moved to Fairfield Shopping Center last April, said the renovations are long overdue.

“This shopping center has needed it for years,” Denney said. “I’m glad to have a grocery store back for my own use, and it’s great for the community.”

He said a representative of Food Lion has already reached out to inquire about ways the store can partner with Wooden Wheels.

Denney hopes that increased foot traffic heading to the grocery store brings more customers to the bike shop, which is located between Food Lion and Fairfield Liquors.

“We’re sandwiched between food and booze,” he said. “That’s a good place to be.”

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