After more than a year without a major grocer in downtown New Haven, Stop & Shop opens its doors this morning to great fanfare from city residents and Yalies alike.

New Haven residents, community leaders, and University administrators gathered in the Whalley Avenue location of a brand new Stop & Shop supermarket on Thursday before the store’s grand opening this morning. The celebration marks the end of a yearlong search for a grocer to replace Shaw’s supermarket, which vacated last March, and the end of the period in which Yale students and downtown residents did not have immediate access to a full-service supermarket.

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“Today feels really good, and tomorrow will feel even better,” said Anne Demchak, manager of the new Stop & Shop. “The neighborhood’s buzzing.”

Store employees were present to let revelers sample the store’s fried chicken, pasta and turkey wraps, among other regional delicacies. The event culminated in speeches from Demchak, Mayor John DeStefano Jr., Stop & Shop Regional President Ron Onorato and Robin Golden ’79 LAW ’98, a lecturer at Yale Law School. Golden led the efforts of a group of Yale Law students from the Ludwig Community Development Clinic who provided legal and financial advice to Greater Dwight Development Corporation as it searched for a replacement grocer. When the speeches were over, Demchak, Onorato and managers of the Whalley Avenue Stop & Shop cut a purple ribbon strung between the store’s checkout area and aisles.

In brief remarks, Onorato wished the attendees “good luck and good shopping.”

And in his speech, DeStefano celebrated the effort not as an individual victory, but a community victory, repeatedly asking, “Is anybody here from New Haven?” to applause from the audience.

“It wasn’t City Hall … a lot of other shoulders, a lot of other organizations, and a lot of other groups fought for this neighborhood,” DeStefano said.

The Greater Dwight Development Corporation, owner of the Dwight Place development that had housed Shaw’s since 1998, has been searching for a grocer since Shaw’s announced in February 2010 it would be closing all of its 18 Connecticut stores. The grocer sold 16 of its stores to rival chains, including Stop & Shop.

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The new Stop & Shop location has brought 150 jobs to the Dwight neighborhood, all of which were filled by New Haven residents — an announcement that drew raucous applause from the audience. In making hiring decisions, Demchak said preference was given to displaced Shaw’s workers.

For Helen Powell, a cashier at the new Stop & Shop, the event marked a long-awaited return. The Dixwell resident worked at the old Shaw’s for 10 years, and spent the last year waiting for a new store to open, she said.

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“This is my second home. Everybody knows me, and I know them,” Powell said. “This is long overdue. I was miserable when Shaw’s closed, but I’m happy now.”

The event drew a slew of University and city administrators, including Economic Development Administrator Kelly Murphy, University Properties Director Abigail Rider and Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93, the director of state communications and special initiatives for the Office of Public Affairs. Morand noted that, with Stop & Shop now open and Elm City Market, the co-op to be housed at 360 State Street, slated to open this summer, New Haven is no longer a food desert but a “food oasis.”

He also pointed to the role the Dwight neighborhood’s female leaders, like the development corporation’s Linda Townsend-Maier and Arlene Davis-Rudd, and Sheila Masterson of the Whalley Avenue Special Services District, played in courting Stop & Shop, adding that “strong women have shown their power once again.”

The store is tailoring its selection to the community, including Yale students, and features an extensive selection of fresh produce and cold beer, Demchak said.

The store will be open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sundays.