What's the best way to get a grocery store?

by Mary
(South Carolina)

Visitor Question: What can we do to attract a real grocery store? Most of us are kind of poor, so it's several miles.

Editors' Reply:
First of all, you aren't alone. Places without easy access to grocery stores now are being called "food deserts."

You don't say if you're in the inner city or in a rural or semi-rural area. If you're in a city, obviously this problem can be remedied if you are persistent enough with people in the grocery business or with the community gardening crowd. Enough community gardens will lead to the feasibility of a farmer's market perhaps.

You need to understand that grocery stores, like retail and restaurant chains, rely extensively on numbers to tell them where to build. They look at population not served by a grocery store, disposable income (it's technical, but think of it as after-tax income right now), the age structure of your population, driving times, and other things we discuss at neighborhood demographics.

You would have the best chance of success with a locally owned single operator, and the second best chance of success if with a locally owned chain. Get your community leadership together, call the owner, ask respectfully for an appointment, and present your reasoning as to why you think the store would work.

Promise to do your best work to promote the store, if it would locate in your neighborhood. Pledge your support in helping to keep the area around the store clean. Suggest a specific piece of real estate, if you know of one. Give examples of when your neighborhood has been successful in helping to fight crime or large groups of teens hanging out.

If locally owned stores or chains don't seem likely answers for you, look around and what out-of-town chain seems to be in other lower-income neighborhoods. Again, get organized and then make a personal appeal to the owners. If you cannot afford a group trip to their headquarters, at least make an appointment for a conference telephone call.

(You won't have to pay for a real conference call if you can find one person or business that has a speakerphone and a table you can gather around. That's not difficult most places.)

If you're in a rural area, you have an entirely different problem. Take whatever business you have in town, and there will be a gas station, a convenience mart, or a tavern, and talk with them very seriously about the need to carry a wider variety of groceries.

Although this sounds a little crazy, in the U.S. even the post office is considering this village office approach where instead of having a separate office, they put their service inside of another business.

A gas station may be able to expand its building or if not, to cram a few important groceries, the milk, the bread, some lettuce, tomatoes, lunch meat, and cheese into its tiny space. If all you have is a wide spot in the road and a tavern, convince them that they aren't making a lot of money during the day and you could really help with that.

Good luck! Let us know how this works.

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