Residents of Cleveland’s Central Ward yearn for a grocery store as negotiations drag on

When Tesia McDonald, a resident of the centre, wants to get fresh groceries for her four children, she has to walk about 30 to 40 minutes, shop, and then bring it all home.

Since she doesn’t have a car, McDonald’s can sometimes take a bus to the store. It helps, but she said public transit isn’t always reliable. And sometimes she will have to have her children with her, which further complicates matters.

That’s the reality for many residents of the central district of Cleveland, which has been without a grocery store for about three years since Dave’s Market left the area.

“It stresses me out and it makes me unmotivated to cook, to eat healthy,” McDonald said. “I would rather just go to the corner store and buy a bag of chips. »

Burten, Bell, Carr Development (BBC)the community development corporation (CDC) which serves the Central district, has sought to find a supermarket to come to Arbor Park Place, a shopping center it operates in Central, but recent negotiations with a potential operator have failed.

All of this is happening in a neighborhood where about 55% of households don’t own a car, according to analysis from the 2019 American Community Survey. Data.

Although there is a Dave’s grocery store about a 30-minute walk away, McDonald said she prefers to go to the nearest ALDI grocery store or Heinen’s grocery store downtown. She has no job and one of her children has many food allergies. So she said she preferred Aldi’s prices and Heinen’s offers to Dave’s.

She also sometimes takes a bus to the Steelyard Commons shopping area to get to the shops, but that can also be risky.

“You have a few minutes to shop before the bus comes back or you have to wait another hour,” McDonald said.

Food deserts, or what some now call “apartheid food,persist throughout Cleveland, including Central. These are areas defined by the United States Department of Agriculture as communities “where people have limited access to a variety of healthy, affordable foods”, often without access to supermarkets.

These areas are particularly concentrated on the east and south sides of Cleveland, where residents of historically demarcated neighborhoods face some of the highest poverty rates in the city. In fact, in 2018, approximately 35% of Cuyahoga County residents and 59% of Cleveland residents resided in such “food deserts.” It is according to a 2019 review of resident access to supermarkets in Cuyahoga County by the Cuyahoga County Board of Health and the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission.

This issue was highlighted again this year when Dave’s Market in Collinwood announced its closure end of April. At the time, Cleveland City Councilman Mike Polensek said the owners cited numerous reasons for the closure of Dave’s Market in Collinwood, including “low sales volume” and “decline in revenue”, although that many other factors likely played into this decision.

This graph shows the relative distance to grocery stores for many neighborhoods in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County, from a 2019 analysis of 2018 data by the Cuyahoga County Board of Health and the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission .

Meanwhile, BBC executive director Joy Johnson said the CDC was continuing to work to bring a grocery store to the Central shopping mall. She said negotiations with a grocery partner interested in moving into the space fell flat after the two parties could not agree on the terms of the lease, particularly regarding the use of local contractors.

“We’re sure the end result would be a store that provides quality goods and services that would hire in the community, but we want to make sure there’s also a benefit for local contractors and construction workers” , she said. .

It’s unclear now if the CDC is talking to other potential stores.. Joe Janes, the owner of Janes Group, independently operates 15 Save-a-Lot stores in Greater Cleveland, which were acquired in March 2021. Janes was in talks with the BBC and Ward 5 Councilor Richard Starr to bring the one of its stores at Arbor Park Place shopping center before the BBC concluded negotiations, Starr said.

“We need good quality food to be able to be served in our community, and it is imperative for them (residents) to make that happen, and for us to put aside some of the differences that we have” , said Starr. .

Janes said he wanted to stay at the table and figure out how to make the project work for everyone, but declined to talk about the details of the contract negotiation. Starr said Janes was willing to use any local or minority-operated contractors to build the store, in line with BBC requirements, but a sticking point arose when Janes wanted to use the same contractor he had. previously used for construction. refrigeration systems.

Additionally, the BBC’s Johnson previously said that potential grocery store operators had requested around $400,000 for the renovation of the Arbor Park Place storefront, funding that would likely have to come from external sources such as local governments.

Johnson did not respond to follow-up questions about whether the community development corporation is now suing a different operator.

Joy Johnson.jpg

Joy Johnson, executive director of Burten, Bell, Carr Development Inc., speaks at a Cuyahoga County event in mid-August 2021 intended to gather feedback on the surge in Cleveland’s central neighborhood.

Starr said he felt the CDC was not willing enough to make its own concessions in the negotiations. During the initial interview with Johnson, she suggested that finding a grocery store to enter the mall is an evolving process that requires a lot of due diligence from all parties.

“What we’ve learned,” Johnson said, “is that landlords usually make a lot of concessions to have a grocery store in their place because they know it’s something that’s going to attract people and can rent other places nearby at a higher rate if they accept a lower rate (for) groceries.

Starr noted that he disagreed with a Save-A-Lot initially coming to Central. But he and community advocate Walter Patton visited the Save-A-Lots operated by the Janes Group in Cleveland and came away very impressed. Patton said the fresh produce and meat offerings were “awesome,” on par with many other grocery stores in the area.

“They hired what the community is like,” Patton said. “On Broadway, there was a mix of black and white workers. On Clark (Avenue), they were Puerto Rican workers.

Janes explained that as an independent licensee of Save-A-Lot stores, he has significant leeway to operate the stores differently than other Save-A-Lots.

Meanwhile in Collinwood, Janes said the Save-a-Lot on Neff Road operated by her company has attracted many new customers since Dave’s Market left Collinwood, customers who say they are happy with the store’s offerings.

Roger Sikes, Program Manager of Create healthy communities with the Cuyahoga County Board of Health, said the solution to the lack of supermarkets in low-income Cleveland neighborhoods is complex. This will mean partnerships between community, government, non-profit organizations and private businesses.

Sikes said Simon supermarket in Euclid is a good example of how this could work. The market has secured several grants and loans from government and non-profit organizations, including $125,000 from the city of Euclid to fund the construction of the store. At the same time, there were several “large scale” community forums where residents argued for what they wanted in the store.

Sikes said the process was successful in that it resulted in a full-service grocery store in a low-income neighborhood, but tensions persist between the store owner and the neighborhood.

Sikes said for a grocery store to truly succeed in these neighborhoods, it will need community buy-in. They should hire from the community and provide these workers with a living wage; provide products requested by the community; and actively seek feedback on operations.

“I don’t think public funding will solve all of our food deserts; supermarkets are doing an economic calculation of where they can stabilize and be profitable,” Sikes said. “…but I would say anytime you have funding, money that’s there to help somebody do something, I mean, come on, it’s real.”

Back in Central, only time will tell when the neighborhood will once again have easier access to fresh food.

In the meantime, residents like Tesia McDonald will still have to make long walks to access meat and fresh produce.

“It’s no wonder people just go to convenience stores and shop around,” she said.

This story is part of Northeast Ohio Solutions Journalism Collaborationof the Making Ends Join project. NEO SoJo is comprised of more than 18 Northeast Ohio news outlets, including [partner’s name]. Conor Morris is a member of the body with Report for America. Email him at [email protected]

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