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Lack of produce at Fresh & Green's has customers asking questions

A banner outside the Fresh & Green's supermarket in Hampden says, "Open Now. Renovation Soon. Happy Shopping."

But Patricia Cochran, of Woodberry, was less than happy as she did her grocery shopping at the market in the Greenspring Tower Shopping Center on Saturday.

"It's horrible," she said. "I just sent my husband to Whole Foods (in Mount Washington) to pick up things they don't have here."

Baltimore City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke is now concerned, too, after hearing from and said she was trying to arrange a meeting with officials of the Fresh & Green's chain. But Clarke said Mark Manzo, whose family owns the shopping center, located on 41st Street, told her the meeting, originally scheduled for Feb. 3, now has been postponed, with no new date set yet.

Fresh & Green's replaced a Superfresh in July. The Superfresh chain, owned by the bankrupt Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., closed 25 of its stores in the region earlier in July. Soon after, Fresh & Green's opened at two former Superfresh locations in Baltimore, and others in Arnold, Brunswick, Cambridge, Chestertown, Parkville andWashington, D.C.

Fresh & Green's is promoting its stores as hybrids of organic food and traditional grocery stores.

The Hampden store got failing grades from most customers interviewed Saturday. They said it was poorly stocked and had been out of produce for more than a week.

"It was a lot better as Superfresh," Cochran said.

A Fresh and Green's store manager, who declined to give his name, said Saturday that most goods were being delivered on schedule. However, he said no produce had been delivered since Jan. 19.

He said he doesn't know why, or what to tell customers, some of whom have shopped at the site since it first opened as a Superfresh in 1994.

"They ask me what's going on," the manager said. "I say, 'I know as much as you do.'"

William Snyder, Fresh & Green's district manager, would not comment for this story. Calls to parent company Natural Market Restaurants Inc., and to Manzo were not immediately returned.

The Rev. Michael Dubsky, pastor of St. Luke's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hampden, went to the store Saturday to buy a fruit or vegetable tray for a party and discovered, "The produce section was almost completely empty."

"If you don't have produce, you can't last long as a grocery store," he said.

Clarke said she is hopeful the meeting initially planned for Feb. 3 can be rescheduled with local Fresh & Green's management to find out what the problems are, if any. She said she was pleased when Fresh & Green's took over the old Superfresh in July.

"I was very grateful that they were coming in," Clarke said. "They seemed like a nice bunch of people."

But she said she has seen fewer customers in the store than she expected, and fewer cars in the parking lot.

"It never took off (as a store) the way it should and I still think it could," she said.

"I can see with my two eyes that something needs to be done to give (the store) a shot in the arm and help them get customers," Clarke said.

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