A new gourmet supermarket is planned in Melrose.

Owner says shoppers will pay more, but will eat healthier

An entrepreneur is set to bring a gourmet market to Melrose, hoping to take a bite out of fast food culture with healthier alternatives.

Developer DeVon Prioleau says the Fresca Gourmet Market he is planning to open in the new Boricua Village complex on E. 161st St. and Third Ave. will help provide the community with the same access to high-quality food more affluent parts of the city have long enjoyed.

“The Bronx can ill afford another liquor store or sneaker store,” Prioleau said.  “I want to give people other options.”

Prioleau, 29, said the  supermarket will be “reminiscent of a Fifth Avenue store rather than a Third Avenue deli.”

In 2008 the Department of City Planning conducted a citywide “Supermarket Shortage” study, in which it identified the South Bronx as one of four underserved high-density population centers severely lacking in fresh food venues. Over a quarter of all adults said they don’t eat any fruits or vegetables on any given day, according to a follow-up study released in November.

That report – called “FoodWorks” and issued by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn – cited the lack of healthy options, coupled with rising prices for nutritious foods and steadily low prices for unhealthy alternatives, as factors contributing to soaring rates of diabetes and other diseases caused by poor eating habits.

The report recommends increasing financial and zoning incentives for grocery stores that open in underserved communities, as part of the city’s Food Retail Expansion to Support Health (FRESH) project.

Over 13 percent of South Bronx residents suffered from diabetes in 2009, and 70 percent of its adults were considered overweight or obese, according to a report released by the city’s Department of Health. But according to a report issued that same year by the Bronx District Public Health Office, 40 percent of respondents said it was difficult to find fresh and affordable produce in the area.

May May Leung, who teaches public health at Hunter College, said chronic illnesses like diabetes and obesity can be reduced by making nutritious food affordable and easily accessible for the city’s lower-income residents.

“Modifying the environment is an important component” to help people change their eating habits, she said.

Prioleau, a Bronx native, says he saw a business opportunity in his “untapped and unexposed” home borough, combined with financial incentives for increasing the availability of fresh, nutritious food through the FRESH program.

He says he has secured nearly a million dollars already, through loans from private sources, as well as from the city.

The young entrepreneur says South Bronx residents regularly put up with “ghetto fabulous supermarkets with bread that’s a day old and food that’s expiring,” and adds that while the neighborhood will benefit from higher-quality food, he has no choice but to pass higher costs on to customers. He said prices will be 50 cents to a dollar per item higher than what local shoppers are accustomed to paying.

Mercy Cruz, 41, has lived in the neighborhood for 22 years.  “Food here is spoiled and old.  It’s just not good,” she said.   Cruz would welcome the new supermarket in Melrose, but said she worried low-income families “might have a problem with higher prices,” then added, “sometimes you have to pay a little extra to get better quality.”

Raymond Arias, 50, who has been selling fruits and vegetables from a nearby stand for the last five years, doesn’t think his small operation will be impacted by the new gourmet market. “Maybe I can go work for them,” he said, laughing.

Prioleau says he is going through the certification process so the market can accept food stamps, and added the store will carry over 4,000 products that reflect the tastes of the area’s diverse ethnic groups. In addition, he says other services, such as cooking classes, will be offered.

Fresca Gourmet Market is slated to open its doors later this year,  and Prioleau would like to see three more stores open in the next five years.

“The wheels are in motion,” he said.

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