Closing Groceries: a symptom, problem, or sign of things to come?

Michelle Moskowitz Brown
Executive Director, Local Matters

Over the past few years, I have found myself saying that grocery stores are not coming back. As we watch stores close inside and outside of Columbus city limits, it has become increasingly clear that the razor-thin profit margins of the grocery industry make it difficult for a business to provide what we can all agree is a basic right – access to a variety of foods and other services that grocers provide (e.g. pharmacies, banking services, household essentials).

With the recent notice about the Northern Lights Kroger* in Linden closing, the issues of access to food, as well as financial and pharmacy services, is rightfully at the forefront of many conversations between residents, clergy, public officials, non-profits, and businesses who are affected and concerned.

At this point in my life, I am not personally affected by a lack of access and I would not claim to understand what losing this Kroger means for shoppers, workers, and the Linden community.  I do think there is a reality with which we must come to terms regarding how we currently meet needs and how rapidly it is changing.

I wonder if Kroger was even meeting the needs or wants of the Linden neighborhood. Are there people with grocery operation experience, New Americans or otherwise, that might be able to bring a different model to serve the residents?

This Kroger closing seems symptomatic of a city divided by race and class. Are there enough people in proximity to the store that could have spent their dollars at this Kroger but did not? Was it truly the type of store that the neighborhood wanted and needed? The discussions Local Matters hosted about food access and education in eight different neighborhoods from 2013-2016 confirmed our sense that store location does not correlate to where people shop. We found that even when people do not have access to their own car, people tend to shop based on their preferences and how stores feel to them. So, we cannot just talk about food deserts and try to solve it by wishing that a store would open or stay open.

So, what about Linden? At least for the next month, there will be shuttles running in a loop every 20 minutes from the closed Northern Lights plaza to the Morse Road Kroger. Additionally, I recently learned that Kroger pharmacies deliver to homes (though there must be someone present to sign for medications). I understand there are several ideas in the works to fill the gap in services that a store closing creates, but I cannot speak to their efficacy or reality at this point.

What are we committed to at Local Matters? We support the next generation in understanding where their food comes from (not the grocery store), how to cook it, and how to access it affordably. We help people use fresh, frozen, and canned food interchangeably.  We believe that a living wage and access to food is a basic right and that it is not elitist to cook good food at home. We help people meet their food goals and feed their families every day.

Food access in neighborhoods is ever changing. With new home delivery and pick up options, the potential for Amazon to accept SNAP (though certainly not a viable option for all), and changing demographics, we have to envision a better future for obtaining food. We host monthly community conversations and have one planned on this topic on February 22. We welcome you to join us.

 

*Disclosure: Local Matter receives $10 gift cards from Kroger that we utilize in our Cooking Matters program, which supports people with the skills and resources to eat well and feed their families. One week of the program takes place at grocery stores (we go wherever participants say they shop) and we help people stretch their dollar even further.