LA Still Lacking Inner City Supermarkets
MHMasch at aol.com
MHMasch at aol.com
Mon Mar 11 12:01:22 PST 2002
The following is an editorial from Sunday's LA Times regarding the continued
lack of inner city supermarkets in Los Angeles. A full report on this subject
will be released by the Urban and Environmental Policy Insitute in May.
Maggie Masch, MPH, RD
Center for Food and Justice
Urban and Evironmental Policy Institute
1600 Campus Road
Los Angeles, Ca 90041
Promises of Renewal Broken
LA Times Sunday March 10, 2002
By AMANDA SHAFFER and ROBERT GOTTLIEB, Amanda Shaffer is the author of an
upcoming Occidental College Urban & Environmental Policy Institute report on
supermarkets in low-income Los Angeles communities (www.uepi.oxy.edu). Robert
Gottlieb is the Director of the institute.
High school bands played. Proceedings were broadcast live on radio.
Participants feasted at a VIP buffet. All this to celebrate the January 1994
opening of a Vons market in the Compton Renaissance Plaza, the first
full-service supermarket to be built in the inner city after the 1992 riots.
Danny Bakewell, whose Compton Commercial Development Corp. was the project
developer, said, "People give rhetoric to wanting to help inner cities--this
is the way to do it.
But just six years later, Vons quietly closed the doors of its ballyhooed
Compton store, citing its lack of profitability. The promise of a
supermarket-led economic boom, like so many other promises made to
neighborhoods affected by the riots, had been broken. In July 1992,
representatives of Vons and Rebuild L.A. held a press conference to announce
the company's plans to build stores in riot zones. Vons promised to build no
fewer than 12 markets in the inner city. Rebuild L.A. chairman Peter V.
Ueberroth proclaimed that the action "provided a Good Housekeeping seal of
approval to all those corporations throughout America who wonder: 'Should we
really invest in the inner city?'" Vons "stepped up," said Ueberroth. It's
the "bell cow."
Soon after, Ralphs, Smart & Final and Food 4 Less made similar announcements.
All told, the four food-market chains vowed to build more than 30 new
supermarkets in the inner city, and other supermarket companies were also
expected to increase their investments in such neighborhoods. "Over a long
period of time," said Vons chairman Roger Strangeland, "we simply lost sight
of the [profit-making] opportunity that existed in the neglected areas--and
shame on us for being so late to rediscover the opportunity."
Rebuild L.A.'s campaign to build supermarkets in the inner city made sound
economic sense. The stores would be a major source of new employment,
creating between 1,000 to 2,000 jobs, with some paying above the minimum
wage. During the previous 30 years, supermarkets had significantly abandoned
the inner city for suburban locations. A UCLA study done in 1993 quantified
the exodus: The number of inner-city chain markets had declined by nearly
Inner-city residents' lack of access to fresh and affordable food was another
concern. A 1995 survey done by RLA, Rebuild L.A.'s new coinage, asked 1,100
residents living in a 52-square-mile area affected by the civil unrest what
goods and services their community lacked. Quality grocery stores and
supermarkets were their overwhelming response. Economically, this represented
enormous unmet demand. In the riot-affected areas, a supermarket typically
served 16,571 people, compared with 7,795 people in greater Los Angeles.
So, what happened? Of the 12 stores promised by Vons, six were built. One was
a rebuild of a store damaged in the riots. A second was located in an area of
Pomona that did not meet RLA's definition of neglected areas--those with
poverty rates of 20% or higher. Two of the new stores have since closed,
including the one in Compton.
But it's unfair to single out Vons. In evaluating the 10-year period since
the civil unrest, the Urban & Environmental Policy Institute (UEPI) at
Occidental College inventoried chain and independent markets in the RLA
survey area. In 1992, there were 32 chain supermarkets and 23 independents.
Today, there are 31 chain supermarkets and 26 independents. The change, such
as it is, is marginal, at best. The ratio of stores owned by the four major
chains to population is even more striking: one supermarket for every 42,000
people in the area, compared with one supermarket for every 24,000 in L.A.
County as a whole.
One reason for the lack of progress is consolidation in the supermarket
industry. After Ralphs merged with Food 4 Less in 1995, 55 stores were either
eliminated or merged with other ones, resulting in a loss of 1,000
higher-paying union jobs, including some in the inner city. The replacement
stores--independent or other retail--were largely nonunion, which could mean
as much as a $162-a-week pay cut, loss of benefits and little, if any, job
Access to fresh and affordable food in the inner city is not much better,
either. The rapid spread of fast food, with its high fat and salt content, in
the inner city has compounded the problem. One recent survey, by the South
Los Angeles Community Coalition, of a two-square-mile area in South-Central
found 52 fast-food establishments and only one sit-down restaurant. The one
chain supermarket in the area offered a far poorer quality of meats and
produce compared with an equivalent chain market in a middle-class
neighborhood. The health and nutritional consequences of this development are
There are a few success stories, however. A couple of supermarkets have been
built in joint ventures with community organizations, with government
facilitating the permitting process and waiving various rules. A handful of
independent inner-city markets have adopted innovative programs, like van
shuttles, to serve their transit-dependent customers. And some inner-city
neighborhood and community-development organizations have taken up the cause
of fresh and affordable food for inner-city residents, sponsoring farmers'
markets, community gardens or food enterprises like the Mercado La Paloma.
Perhaps the most important lesson to be gleaned from our recent experience of
building supermarkets in the inner city is that private-sector investment
isn't enough to solve the problems of too few supermarkets and lack of access
to fresh food. We also need to see these problems as community-development
and public-policy issues. The successful stores not only involve the private
sector, but also government and the community. As important, if stores in
Compton or in other low-income neighborhoods are to survive and even
flourish, they need to reach out to the community they want to serve.
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