Attracting Grocery Stores

            New Orleans               The other day brainstorming with Rick Smith, Ben, Colin, Beth, and Hillary — the core of the whole WARN team in Florida — we found ourselves talking about the contradictory problem of outsized superstores that we have fought many places versus grocery “deserts” that also concern us when communities are isolated from affordable and accessible food in many urban areas.  I had recently received an interesting study done by highly respected research and policy shop, Policy Link, based in Oakland, called “Grocery Store Attraction Strategies.”

            There were a lot of helpful hints embedded in the report.   For example the state of Pennsylvania has a $20,000,000 fund which is a “fresh food” financing initiative to encourage the opening of urban grocery outlets.  In two years some 22 stores used the fund to leverage another $80M in money to expand.  That was welcoming news.

            The study also touts the effort of large retailers who are offering smaller footprint operations.  They mention efforts by Harris Teeter in the southeast with a 20,000 square foot operation, Sav-a-Lot in the Midwest with a 15,000 square foot format.  More controversially they also smile on Tesco’s heavy non-union entry in the California and Arizona markets with their “Fresh and Easy” brand of 10,000 square foot stores. 

            The study did not mention our friends with Wal-Mart, but they announced in 2008 that they were also looking at a smaller grocery format undoubtedly to compete with Tesco’s initiative in the US market.  We realize that our successful sitefight strategy will not work as well with shrunken programs that can easily shoehorn into existing retail space or strip mall vacancies which abound in many communities now.

            Why can’t we get both worker-friendly and community friendly operations to take a harder look at being the sole source grocery purveyors in areas where they will get significant support?  We found ourselves thinking about discussions we had had in Detroit last year and union friendly chains like Safeway. 

            Food for thought.

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