Have We Lost The Food Desert War?

The Lempert Report
July 27, 2020

I went to school in Newark New Jersey, and years after the Newark riots, there were still boarded up supermarkets, superettes and corner grocery stores.

My aunt had a nightclub that was destroyed and she opened up a bar that was a fraction of the size of the original across the street, with bars on the windows this time around.

Over the past few weeks as I witnessed the lootings across the country and the newly boarded up supermarkets and stores – I had to wonder – how long it would take these communities and business to return to the normal way of shopping for food.

My friend, John Ewoldt, a terrific journalist at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, wrote a column that underscored my food fears. He interviewed Melanie Majors, executive director of the Longfellow Community Council who told him “I consider the loss of these businesses devastating. Besides just the food, there’s a lack of retail for diapers, formula, household goods, even clothing.”

He writes that many residents of the area shop lower-priced stores such as Aldi or dollar stores. Two of those dollar stores — including Family Dollar on Lake Street — were destroyed in the looting and violence that arose after George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis police custody.

John spoke with Sylvester Hudson, a shopper who walked about 40 minutes from Fort Snelling Apartments to the Cub Foods at E. 46th Street and Hiawatha Avenue. It is the only supermarket left in the Longfellow neighborhood along the light-rail line after four other supermarkets closed because of destruction during the protests.

Jeff Brown, who owns ShopRites in Philadelpia witnessed one of his stores being devastated by the lootings in that city. Brown has been one of the leaders in the nation to open new full service well-stocked supermarkets in food deserts.

The devastation and looting may only last for a day, or even hours, but for those chains who are well funded it may six months or a year to rebuild, or they may just walk away from those communities. For those who are independent stores that have limited funding, they may well have their lives decimated as well as their store.