Supermarket planned for Allentown, Penn.

A 35,000-square-foot supermarket has been proposed as the final piece in the redevelopment of the Durkee spice plant at the Eighth Avenue near the Route 378 interchange in Bethlehem.

PriceRite, a no-frills, limited assortment, deep-discount supermarket could open its doors as soon as the end of the year if approvals and construction go smoothly, said developer Jim Petrucci. His company has converted the spice factory, vacant since 1995, into a Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse and a 200-unit apartment complex.

Initially, a bank and one or two restaurants restaurants were envisioned as the accompanying development to Lowe's in the new shopping center, but when the PriceRite opportunity came up, "they were a perfect fit," said Petrucci, owner of J.G. Petrucci Co.

Tony Hanna, the city's director of community and economic development, said the PriceRite is a better development than two restaurants, bringing better jobs and a greater impact on the city's tax base. Construction of the supermarket is expected to cost about $7.5 million, Petrucci said.

That doesn't include about $2 million in equipment costs for the store's interior, said Neil Duffy, PriceRite's president. The supermarket is expected to employ 120 people and have between 15,000 and 18,000 shoppers every week, Duffy said.

"I think it meets an unmet need in west Bethlehem," said Mayor John Callahan, who hailed the proposal at a news conference in City Hall on Friday afternoon.

When it opens, it will be the closest major supermarket to Bethlehem's historic downtown. It will also be accessible by mass transit, as it will sit along Lehigh and Northampton Transportation Authority's Route F and Starlight Route 3, which both travel along Eighth Avenue and stop by the Lowe's.

"Access to food shopping for urban residents is always difficult," said Armando Greco, LANTA's executive director, who was contacted after the news conference. Many people take a bus to do grocery shopping, Greco said.

"This sounds like it would be a good alternative," he said. "Seniors especially, are always looking for good alternatives."

PriceRite is owned and operated by the New Jersey-based Wakefern Food Corp., which also owns the name ShopRite, which has more than 200 grocery stores in the Northeast. PriceRite has 35 stores, including one in south Allentown, and three more under development, including the proposed Bethlehem location, Duffy said.

PriceRite stores do not accept coupons or checks, do not advertise and do not issue discount membership cards, passing the cost savings associated with these amenities on to consumers, Duffy said.

Like competitor Aldi, PriceRite carries a limited assortment of dry goods, but unlike Aldi, sells name brands. PriceRite also sells government-inspected meats, poultry and fish. It concentrates heavily on fresh produce, which occupies at least 20 percent of each store.

The store has gone through an identity evolution since the first one opened in West Springfield, Mass., in 1995. Initially, the stores took space in abandoned inner-city supermarkets and groceries, as in the Allentown store, which had been an Acme. Lately, the stores have begun to build new spaces.