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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Growing 'Grocery Gap' In Cincinnati: Food Stores Abandoning Low-Income Neighborhoods

CINCINNATI (TDB) -- The IGA that used to be in walking distance of my home is now a beauty shop and daycare center. There are no grocery stores that can be reached without a short drive by car. City officials are now concerned about a lack of places to shop for fresh food in Cincinnati -- especially in inner city neighborhoods -- and are considering creating a Food Access Task Force. They say there is a grocery gap, a "disparity that exists between lower income communities and higher income communities regarding access to quality and healthy food supplies." That's an irony in a nation and state that is blessed with some of the world's most productive farmland, and in a city that is the corporate headquarters of one of the world's largest grocery store chains, Kroger Co.

Democratic City Council members Laketa Cole and David Crowley, the city's vice-mayor, said that full service grocers are closing. An Aldi in the Avondale neighborhood announced last fall it was shutting down, and a Walnut Hills Kroger store informed City Hall it may leave due to lease problems. The council members said fewer places to shop means something must be done to "broaden the access to quality and affordable food sources." Nationally, there is plenty of information about the grocery gap in cities across the nation. The Cincinnati City Council document can be accessed online via city's hall's e-gov page by looking for document number 200800315. Crowley and Cole said the Cincinnati task force should focus on developing new grocery stores, improving existing small stores and starting and sustaining farmers' markets.

The University of California Davis has studied the grocery gap and cited data showing suburbs have up to three times as many supermarkets as low-income neighborhoods. But there are reasons, including crime:

"The supermarket industry cites higher security costs, greater employee turnover and a bigger 'shrink factor' (theft) in high poverty neighborhoods . . . loss and retrieval of shopping carts -- often used as wheels by people without cars -- can cost a small grocer chain $300,000 a year. For shoppers, the grocery gap means traveling to another part of town to find a supermarket, or buying groceries at a small convenience store that may offer a poorer selection at a higher price. For residents without cars, the situation is especially tough."

1 comment:

  1. This seems like a fool's errand. There's nothing a government task force can do to change the status quo.

    Shrinkage, turnover, and security are cost-side considerations for the store. If sales are strong, they simply pass those costs through as elevated prices.

    If sales are weak, no amount of cost cutting will make it worthwhile for the store to remain open. The revenue-side is decisive.

    The root problem is insufficient profitibility for the stores; and it is endemic to low income neighborhoods. Sure, we could hand out cash, either to the residents, or to the store. But that would merely band-aid the symptoms. The core disease would remain untreated.

    The City needs to quit chasing effects and invest at the heart of the problem. Dissolve the "food access task force" and figure out how to bring in more jobs or higher wages. Then the grocers will flock back.