Friday, November 16, 2007

The Grocery Gap

The closing of the Kroger on Gettysburg Avenue got a mention at DaytonOS, but no discussion. The DDN has been providing good coverage, though (and check out the comments section: it’s like watching a train wreck)

The issue is more than just one store.

This is an ongoing problem in urban areas, the development of the "grocery gap" between poor inner-city areas and suburbs (though Gettysburg isn't really inner city). This has also been called the "food desert", part of a larger phenomenon of "retail redlining".

Retail options are confined to small stores (if there are any) with limited selection. For people without cars this imposes a real hassle, as one is forced to arrange rides or use a bus to reach supermarkets. Given RTA's poor schedules this is can be a real chore in the Dayton area, riding and waiting hours for buses and transfers just to reach a supermarket. Some of the research implies health and nutrition issues arising from food deserts.

The concept arose in England (I think), but has certainly been put on the agenda in some US cities. Here is a report on the issue from WMAQ Channel 5 in Chicago: City Planners Want Oasis in Food Desert.

…and a map of the Chicago food desert, with an oasis noted.
It's not impossible to have supermarkets serve urban markets Two I'm familiar with are Delray Farms and Butera, up in Chicago. In Dayton the closest approximation is the Mexican supermarket on Troy Street, which is part of a small chain based in Columbus (though this operation is geared to the Mexican community, not a general purpose super like Delray or Butera).

Another approach, also from Chicago, is to use the TIF mechanism to prep abandoned or underused sites for urban shopping centers in poorer neighborhoods. I think this was used to redevelop a part of the old Sears site at Homan and Roosevelt Road into shopping, serving the Lawndale neighborhood (the “oasis” in the above map) . From what I recall this center had a large laundromat ("Spin Cycle"), a video store, a supermarket (Dominick’s , a Chicagoland chain), a cineplex and some other things.

The New York Times reports what sounds like a similar project in the Kenwood neigborhood on Chicago’s south side.

A TIF approach could be used to develop centrally located sites, like some of the vacant/underused land along Edwin C Moses or the old McCall site off of US 35, into a small shopping center, and perhaps recruit one of the Chicago regionals as anchor.?

Why hasn’t the grocery gap been put on the local public policy agenda?

Perhaps a blind spot with city government? I brought up the lack of good groceries once, in a public forum a few years ago, to the head of the Downtown Dayton partnership, and was given the brush-off. One can see an intial “oh well” attitude in reaction to the Kroger closing, (though it seems Dean Lovelace is taking a more activist stand).

Or perhaps parts of Dayton could be just too poor and depopulated and crime-ridden to support supermarkets, even smaller ones? Kroger claimed that their Gettysburg store has been unprofitable for years, so they were either just breaking even or absorbing a loss, perhaps using this store as some sort of tax write-off?

In any case grocery shopping options for the west/northwest side have become even narrower. And the hassle and nutrition and public health issues arising from lack of grocery stores won’t go away.

For a future Daytonology project, mapping Dayton’s food desert?


Matt said...

This strikes me as a form of redlining, and I'm not prone to conspiracy theories. That said, I'd love to know if there is some geographic-demographic calculation that might explain the lack of stores. Are area grocers attracted to money? To strategic locations that cover parts of the city and more of the 'burbs? To locations near families with school-age kids?

Or maybe there just aren't that many grocery chains operating here? Larger cities have grocers that seemingly specialize in the bottom tax brackets and urban settings (e.g., Pathmark and Fresh Grocer in Philly). Where are the bottom-feeders?

Bruce Kettelle said...

Things in Philly have changed since 2001


Philadelphia has been called America's second worst city, behind Boston, for its number of supermarkets per capita. A 1995 study by the University of Connecticut put the statistic at a shameful low. Unsurprisingly, the lack of supermarkets is felt most acutely in the city's least affluent neighborhoods, where supermarkets, like housing, have been redlined. The study found that there are 63.5 percent more stores in Philadelphia's highest-income neighborhoods than in its lowest-income neighborhoods, leaving denizens of North, West and Southwest Philadelphia largely devoid of supermarket access.

Part of the reason supermarkets have become more open to inner cities is that governments and nonprofit organizations have become more open to helping retailers deal with their challenges. Pennsylvania, a pioneer in this area, put together a state Fresh Food Financing Initiative in September 2004 to provide retailers financial aid in offsetting initial capital costs that come with being in underserved areas ("underserved" can also include nonurban areas). Financing for extra security is just one example of how the initiative would help bring down upfront costs, notes David Adler, communications coordinator at The Food Trust, one of the groups that manage the $80 million fund.

Matt said...

That bears out our experience in Philly from 2000-06. We lived in West Philly, which got three new grocery stores in that six year period, and a new Whole Foods store was added just south of Center City. That particular Whole Foods would make a good template for a Wayne/Wyoming Kroger. The design was a two-story building one block long with (free) parking on the roof/second story.

Jeffrey said...

You all have a Philly connections? My sister & brother-in-law lived there for a while while my sister was in grad school.


This subject is new to me, and I just linked to a few things i found online. It's something I've wondered about for awhile now, more from a convenience thing, but the links imply something more worrisome, and that's the nutrition issue.

The bottom line is if retailers can make money in low income locations. Some say that conventional marketing tools and criteria, and the census, misses people and income.

An activist group called Social Compact is working this issue, and has a pretty interesting website...check it out:

Matt said...

Thanks for the Social Compact link - I read their Hidden In Plain Sight report, which presents a familiar challenge: how do you counter the cycles of disinvestment that stem from negative perceptions and portrayals of an area? West Philly has a BID called University City District (UCD), started and funded by UPenn as part of their effort to make West Philly and their campus safer. UCD devoted considerable effort to produce an annual report each year giving a statistical snapshot of the district, for use by developers and policy makers, that highlighted the positive assets of the community over the perceived problems of crime and disinvestment. This is the same thing that Social Compact (apparently) does when they consult, and it would be a good exercise for the Dayton: what are the assets of each priority board? Where are the underserved markets? Where is crime dropping or low? Where do we have high aggregate income but limited local services? UCD's reports packaged this data, along with ped counts, maps, etc., into slick little bound books with nice graphics. Dayton could do the same or just put it on the web site as PDFs.

Jeffrey said...

That Philadelphia idea sounds pretty interesting.

I agree, I can see a concerted effort like this for Dayton, as the place really needs to do better with neighborhood retail. Or it's something the city or the priority boards can do in concert with closer-in suburbs.

Bruce Kettelle said...

An interesting coincidence is a series of upcoming meetings at Dayton Metro Libraries about where new libraries should be located and possibly condensing some locations into one larger facility. Would the reduction in access to libraries cause even more challenges for the schools and parents? Could their locations be tied to economic development initiatives such as co-locating with retail such as grocers to increase traffic to both?


PS: I grew up in the Philly suburb of Malvern.