CAMDEN – The perilous circumstances of a city supermarket may leave the residents here without an immediate source of fresh food, making even worse the condition of a South Jersey city already designated a food desert.
To date, the state has been largely unresponsive to the situation as poverty-stricken Camden plunges into a COVID-19 era nightmare. This is the same place where, on a nod from the state legislature and Governor Chris Christie, the powerful business contacts of boss George Norcross received tax breaks to maintain their corporate businesses here as poverty ravages the $27K median household income city.
“Our current local leadership has neglected this,” said upstart mayoral candidate Elton Custis, who stood in the parking lot outside PriceRite this afternoon, less than two months removed from the June 8th Democratic Primary.
“They know this has been coming down the pipeline,” added Custis, a local School Board member who beat the machine last year in his off-the-line bid. “I believe this gentleman has called them and told them that he is pulling out after this year and the residents still do not know about this injustice that is about to be put on us. My administration will be working hard to make sure that we have a full service supermarket that will serve all of the residents’ needs.”
Custis is running a slate against Councilman Vic Carstarphen, who has the backing of the Camden County Democratic Committee in his bid to succeed retiring Mayor Frank Moran.
“Today, Camden is most certainly a food desert,” Custis told InsiderNJ. “I am told this PriceRite will be closing at the end of the year. We have to come to the table and get people involved. People have to take buses to Collingswood and Cherry Hill. It is an injustice that we do not have a full service supermarket.”
The candidate for mayor gestured across the parking lot to the recognizable fast food establishments hugging the avenue. “When this is gone all we have are our fast food restaurants,” he said. “People will lack access to fresh foods.”
Having originally exposed the tax incentive program and warred with the South Jersey establishment only to make peace in time for the June 2021 election, Governor Phil Murphy is committed to helping Camden with an urban food program carve-out in his $14.5 billion Economic Recovery Act. But food industry leaders – not to mention Camden itself – say they will believe it when they see it, as others try to take up the slack.
For his part, Custis said as mayor he will make food access his first priority.
Both former Mayor Dana Redd and a spokesperson for Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) have blamed “market forces” – not politicians – for the failure of supermarkets in Camden. But Custis said he disagrees.
“My job [as mayor] is to get people to the table,” said the mayoral candidate. “There are supermarkets that want to be here. This center most certainly needs a shopping center in the city. We can come to some mutual agreement.
“We really want this to be a movement,” he added, in reference to his mayoral campaign. “I’m carrying the weight for all of us here. We have not had a leader who has fought for us for quite some time.”
Camden does have another supermarket – Cousins – but it is on the other side of the city.