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Grocery closings hit Detroit hard

City shoppers’ choices dwindle as last big chain leaves
Joel J. Smith and Nathan Hurst / The Detroit News

DETROIT — Colleen Rogers isn’t looking forward to crossing the street to shop for even a few groceries.

The store, a locally owned market, is convenient, just steps away from the beauty shop where she works on Livernois in Detroit. But what troubles her is its higher prices, lack of variety and the low quality of fruit, vegetables, meats and other food — staples Rogers could find every day in abundance at the Farmer Jack store near her home that is about to close.
“Sure, there’s other grocery stores, but try finding something to eat in there,” said the 34-year-old skin care specialist. “You can’t buy quality food in the city anymore.”

The lack of major grocery stores has long been a quality-of-life problem in Detroit and one reason some families don’t want to live in the city. Now, however, the situation is getting worse as the last two Farmer Jack stores in the city prepare to close by Saturday.

If no grocery stores buy the Farmer Jack locations from the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., Detroit will be left without a single national chain supermarket, much less a Wal-Mart or Meijer superstore or a Costco-style warehouse store.

Analysts say no other major city in America is such a supermarket desert. And it’s not likely to change anytime soon.
The Full Article


National chains stay away from Detroit

Here are some reasons cited by national retail experts on why brand supermarket chains avoid Detroit:

• Net profits at supermarkets run 1-5 percent of revenue. If shoplifting by customers and employees runs 7-8 percent, the store is doomed to lose money.
• High cost of maintaining security for the stores, something most suburban locations don’t need. Shopping carts often disappear, at a cost of $300 per cart.
• Personal safety for employees, with robberies, thefts and assaults both inside and outside the stores.
• Difficulty finding qualified managers willing to run Detroit stores. Most prefer the suburban locations.
• Problems seeking qualified workers for the stores. It can be a major undertaking to find employees who can pass reading, writing and math tests along with credit, criminal background and drug tests. And there is a constant turnover of employees at stores in the city. “It’s a human resource nightmare,” said David J. Livingston, a supermarket expert from Wisconsin.
• Declining population. No national chain wants to move into an area that is losing population.
• Lower per-capita income. That means less expenditure on food.
• Racism and discrimination accusations. If the store raises its prices because of higher costs of doing business, it is often charged with gouging the poor.
• A well-publicized violent crime or armed robbery can cost the store 10 percent of its business. Three such crimes, experts say, and the store may as well close its doors.
Source: Supermarket experts

Courtesy of the dspot blog


I remember a year or two ago, denim_queen, I believe, talking about this problem in regards to Chicago if I remember correctly.

I’ve never lived anywhere that this was even nearly a problem. Here in Nashville you have at least one chain grocery story in every zip code, just like post offices and libraries. In most places you can go either direction from your house and be at a grocery store within a couple of miles or so.

Coincidentally I’m going to Detroit tonight: Anybody know about any live music venues there, or otherwise interesting night spots?

Comments

( 33 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
cumaeansibyl
Jul. 19th, 2007 03:43 pm (UTC)
Maybe because someone with like a 500 credit rating is more likely to steal?
kelleah
Jul. 19th, 2007 10:19 pm (UTC)
I'm sure that's the reason they'll site if you call them on it, but it's a load of crap. They simply use it as a way to turn down brown people.

If they're worried about theft, that's what the criminal background checks are for. If you have a theft charge on your record, then yeah, I can see a supermarket not hiring you. (It's the same for cleaning crews that work in office buildings.) But how a person pays or doesn't pay their bills due to any number of circumstances should not stop them from getting a low level cashier's job at a supermarket. Dude, it's a freakin' supermarket. No one's aspiring to work their as a life-long career.
xica_s
Jul. 19th, 2007 03:25 pm (UTC)
I remember a year or two ago, denim_queen, I believe, talking about this problem in regards to Chicago if I remember correctly.

Certain neighborhoods in Chicago still have this problem. A friend of mine bought a condo in Bronzeville about two years ago and I noticed then the complete lack of...well and retail, let alone a grocery store. There is one Save-A-Lot or something on King Drive and I know there was a old ass Jewel foods on King as well. How they expect this neighborhood to completely transition back to some of its former glory when there isn't anywhere for folks to pick up a damn loaf of bread on the way home befuddles me. However, if I need a five piece and a six-pack of beer (which, ya know, sometimes you DO) I'm all set.

I grew up in South Shore and we had a Dominick's just down the road, but I never really appreciated how far other people, who didn't live right in my area would have to go for a decent store. With all the damn people crowded into some of these south side neighborhoods tey could get away with having one every five or six blocks.
yobachi2003
Jul. 19th, 2007 03:53 pm (UTC)
There's a very large save-a-lot a couple of miles from where I live that's been sitting abandoned for about a year. It's right by the projects, and my understanding was that the shoplifting was outstripping the profits.

That's probably true, because other than terrible mismanagement, I'm hard pressed to see how a grocery store doesn't survive in the prime real-estate area it's in. Even though by the projects, it's on a thoroughfare that is a major traffic area and a corridor from south Nashville into downtown.

But that’s an exception around here. There’s a Kroger less than a mile up the road. All though I noticed years ago that the Kroger’s in the poor neighborhoods have worst produce (in quality and selection) and tend to have more expensive product.
blackestsheep
Jul. 19th, 2007 03:28 pm (UTC)
It can be a major undertaking to find employees who can pass reading, writing and math tests along with credit, criminal background and drug tests.

i worked at a casino in detroit... they told me the pass rate was 1 in 300 on the drug test alone...



when i lived in detroit i lived downtown... there was a farmer jacks about 2 miles from me that was the worst store i'd ever seen... as a result i got my stuff from the farmers market on saturday and during the week i made stops in the burbs on my way back downtown... otherwise i would do a once a month trip to sams club...
yobachi2003
Jul. 19th, 2007 03:34 pm (UTC)
they told me the pass rate was 1 in 300 on the drug test alone...


Wow, that's something else. And that's when they know they're applying for a job and may be tested. I remember about 8 years ago sucking down vinegar to go take a piss test to work as a cashier at the Mapco Gas station. Must of worked, cause I passed :D

How long ago did you live in Detroit, because the articles says that they don’t even have a Costco-style warehouse store, which I would think would include Sams? Or was the Sam’s you went to outside of the city.
abstract_truth
Jul. 19th, 2007 04:10 pm (UTC)
All of our Costco/Sam's Club Warehouses are outside of the city limits. The closest one is about 3 miles outside of the city border which isn't surprising because those stores tend to set up in more affluent areas anyway, but the lack of national chain grocery stores really stings.

I hate, hate, HATE having to travel so far to do my grocery shopping, and although I can understand some of the unique issues with inner city groceries, I'm willing to call BS on most of those cited reasons. There are plenty of local "hood" grocery stores ran mostly by Arabs doing business in city, and have been for years. Why are they able to manage security, theft, and employment issues, yet these national chains are unable unwilling to do so?

When I go to shop at the grocery stores outside of the city, I want to cry at the disparity between those stores and the ones in the city. Plenty of fresh produce, great lighting, clean facility, etc. I refuse to believe that they can't find at least 1 damn neighborhood in Detroit where this could be accomplished.

Contrary to rumor, we do have affluent neighborhoods here and there are decent hard working middle class areas as well. Not everyone is a thief, on crack, or plagued with bad credit.
billies_blues
Jul. 19th, 2007 04:14 pm (UTC)
Contrary to rumor, we do have affluent neighborhoods here and there are decent hard working middle class areas as well. Not everyone is a thief, on crack, or plagued with bad credit.

AMEN!

Plenty of fresh produce, great lighting, clean facility, etc. I refuse to believe that they can't find at least 1 damn neighborhood in Detroit where this could be accomplished.

My store has all of that. I just don't like the prices.
richirch2
Jul. 19th, 2007 05:17 pm (UTC)
Actually, there is a Sam's Club on 8 Mile in Southfield (8 Mile is the border of the city limits as we all should know by now...).
richirch2
Jul. 19th, 2007 05:26 pm (UTC)
Contrary to rumor, we do have affluent neighborhoods here and there are decent hard working middle class areas as well. Not everyone is a thief, on crack, or plagued with bad credit.

Oh yeah. This was discussed on a Detroit forum I read a few weeks ago. I pointed out that the zip codes that make up Rosedale Park (a neighborhood in northwest Detroit) has about the same median household income as Royal Oak (a predominantly white suburb). Rosedale Park (in the city - primarily black) also has about 2.5 times the population of Royal Oak, but Rosedale Park is only served by 1 independent grocery store. Royal Oak easily has 10.

When you isolate North Rosedale Park (the most affluent section of the Rosedale Park communities), the median household income is well over $70K/year. That's nearly even with the affluent white suburb of Birmingham, which has no trouble attracting ANYTHING.

Rosedale Park isn't the only inner-city community with these stats. There are a few with even better stats... the only thing is that they all happen to be predominantly black.

I smell nothing but bullshit on how these chains are evaluating the criteria for where they put their stores. I'm really finding it very hard to believe that they don't use race as a criteria.
blackestsheep
Jul. 19th, 2007 05:17 pm (UTC)
if it wasn't the weed it would be bad credit or a police record...i worked with a lot of canadian who crossed the bridge each day...

i lived there till nov 2003... the sams club was in this place called south land... about 15mins outside the detroit city line... i worked in the hood on the edge of detroit call outer drive... i could cross the street and be in the burb called allen park...
espnchick1920
Jul. 20th, 2007 01:50 pm (UTC)
and you know what's so incredibly ironic?

I can understand drug testing for certain jobs (security, police, etc.). But drug testing for a cashier or bagger job? Doesn't make sense to me.

PLUS...the only time I've POTENTIALLY faced drug testing was for lower-wage jobs. NONE of the jobs I've looked at that required at least a bachelor's required a drug test. BUT, when I was gonna apply for a summer job to be a damn parking garage attendant, they wanted to drug test.

It seems the higher you go up in education, the less likely they are to test you. Yet, as I said in my post yesterday, DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY DOCTORS, DENTISTS, PHARMACISTS, ETC. smoke weed or do other drugs?
qteasydanil
Jul. 19th, 2007 03:31 pm (UTC)
If more white people moved in, there'd probably be a Gristedes or something like that.

No, but seriously I was reviewing the reasons why Detroit is avoided, and yes I understand to a certain extent. If there is a problem finding employees, what about people who live in Detroit? Wouldn't someone want to work around their home? And, I don't understand what bad credit has to do with getting a job? Why is that even a part of the background check anyways? People need to work in order get themselves out of the red.

And if there is a low per-capita income in the city, AREN'T PEOPLE LOOKING FOR JOBS??? How would it be hard to "find qualified employees"? How hard is it to work a register, mop, and bag? The problem probably lies in the school system or even these prejudices that these companies have against people in Detroit.

But I live in Long Island, and they recently took out the Stop and Shop AND the Family Dollar out of my town within months of one another. Those buildings change names alot. And I'm living in a middle-income community.
billies_blues
Jul. 19th, 2007 03:58 pm (UTC)
How hard is it to work a register, mop, and bag?
How would it be hard to "find qualified employees"?


You would be surprised. I've worked in a Detroit grocery store for three years and have seen some real special cases.
It's not so much that the job is hard (trust me, it's not) it's just that people who end up signing up for it usually don't want to be there. It's day in and day out of work that seems pointless and the pay doesn't match up to your bills.

I know that if I weren't in school then I would have gone crazy there a long time ago.

yobachi2003
Jul. 19th, 2007 04:01 pm (UTC)
You live in Detriot? Got any suggestions on my night spots question?

billies_blues
Jul. 19th, 2007 04:02 pm (UTC)
sadly, no.
billies_blues
Jul. 19th, 2007 04:05 pm (UTC)
I like Wayne State Campus Bars. There is Black Label Beer for a dollar at Cass Cafe.
There are some cafes sprinkled around. Beans and Bytes is usually nice. There is always the Greek Town
qteasydanil
Jul. 19th, 2007 11:55 pm (UTC)
Really, who in the hell wants to be working at a supermarket? The work seems pointless because it is. But I'm sure somebody, somewhere in Detroit needs a damn job doing SOMETHING.
billies_blues
Jul. 19th, 2007 04:01 pm (UTC)
Also
I have struggled with the whole live in the city, work in the city, shop in burbs thing ever since I got my first paycheck.

You want to support your own and try to help build up your city but you also know that sometimes you just can't afford to do so.
I do shop inside in the city but I'm not above going out to Southfield or Royal Oak or Ferndale to catch a sale.

The chain I would love to see here is a Trader Joes. Simply because most of the food they sell is healthy and I believe that is what we really need to promote.
abstract_truth
Jul. 19th, 2007 04:19 pm (UTC)
Re: Also
I don't know if you've been following the whole Trader Joes discussion here, but they were trying convince them to open up one in the vacant space at Lafayette Park, but no dice.

Apparently Trader Joes has a really complex formula that goes into the decision as to where they will open a store and they try to create as little company debt as possible. One criteria that they go by is percentage of college graduates in potential area, as well as proximity to delivery routes in relation to existing area stores.

I'm afraid the best we can hope for in Detroit is a Grosse Pointe location.
qteasydanil
Jul. 19th, 2007 11:52 pm (UTC)
Re: Also
percentage of college graduates in potential area

Wow...yeah TJ's has a math test on their apps too. Maybe that's how they keep their salaries high. Go where the money is...
abstract_truth
Jul. 19th, 2007 04:15 pm (UTC)
Yobashi, Gimme your email address
I have a list of things going on this week in Detroit, but it's too long to post here.
yobachi2003
Jul. 19th, 2007 04:19 pm (UTC)
Re: Yobashi, Gimme your email address
lionrunner777@yahoo.com

Thanks
abstract_truth
Jul. 19th, 2007 04:27 pm (UTC)
Re: Yobashi, Gimme your email address
Sent.
abstract_truth
Jul. 19th, 2007 04:31 pm (UTC)
The Concert of Colors is always a good time. Great live (free) music.

http://www.concertofcolors.com/
imjustice
Jul. 19th, 2007 04:43 pm (UTC)
are you going? if so, want to meet up?
littleeva
Jul. 19th, 2007 05:05 pm (UTC)
This is interesting but the weird thing is that it's happening in of all places Manhattan. Years ago on the Upper West Side in Manhattan there were many Gristedes. But as the neighborhood became upscale lots of the folks in the condos didn't want to deal with the smell or the crowds, so that's why the small Fairway is like a zoo (really, someone's going to get cut in there) and the nearest supermarket is Food Emporium, which is always crowded.

Where I live in Harlem, they closed one supermarket, but there are two more nearby plus the Path Mark which I can walk to, but here there is no Costco or Sam's Club or a Wal-Mart either.
simplecity2htwn
Jul. 19th, 2007 05:24 pm (UTC)
As much as it pains me to admit this, from a business standpoint, I can see it.

1. Real estate taxes are typically higher in the inner city than they are in the suburbs.

2. Then if you add in the additional costs for insurance (always higher in the city limits).

3. Losses resulting from shoplifting, lost carts, etc.

Pretty soon a major chain is going to ask, "why bother?" When you're talking profit margins that are already thin, your only choice is to charge higher prices for your merchandise and as soon as you do that, you get slapped with the racism label.
richirch2
Jul. 19th, 2007 05:42 pm (UTC)
Is this your first time?
Anybody know about any live music venues there, or otherwise interesting night spots?

The Majestic on Woodward for live music. Greektown. Mexicantown. Middle Easterntown(lol) on the Dearborn/Detroit border. Check out the stuff over on Broadway. Probably something at the State Fillmore Theater. Trenchtown is a good after hours reggae spot (doesn't open until 2am tho... and they don't sell alcohol).

Go to the African American History Museum. The DIA too.

There will probably be a festival at Hart Plaza too, but not sure what's going on this weekend since I don't live there now. Plenty of night clubs downtown centered around Woodward. A lot of black professionals tend to hang out at the Elysium.

Since you'll be there on the weekend, check out the Eastern Market on Saturday. It's the largest outdoor market in the country. There are probably some live music venues in Windsor also. A nice little Italy over there as well (so I hear).

There will also probably be some things to do in Royal Oak, Birmingham or Ferndale, but I'm not sure what.
donthurrycurry
Jul. 19th, 2007 06:47 pm (UTC)
If they (the city) really gave a damn couldn't they start some kind of initiaitive to encourage small business owners to open more small markets (with actual grocery products, not just corner store style with A-shirts, kegs, and blunts)? OR, even just tax breaks for stores opened in the area whether private or a chain?

Its always so much easier in theory, I guess.
richirch2
Jul. 19th, 2007 06:58 pm (UTC)
BTW, do you know the person whose blog you linked to?
(Deleted comment)
hollywoodsmile7
Jul. 19th, 2007 08:00 pm (UTC)
"Within the first 5 weeks of being open they had be hit by over $8000.00 dollars worth of bad checks, the theft of 84 of their 250 shopping carts, and an epidemic of shoplifting (6 shoplifters were caught in the first 5 weeks)."

Wow, that's a shame.

It is so trashy when people take shopping carts.
sunny482
Jul. 20th, 2007 12:42 am (UTC)
The loss of my Farmer Jack on 7/Livernois sure did ruin my week...

The grocery closing has actually been a big concern/deal around here lately. LaSalle back authored a study that diet related illness and the trouble finding "real nutrition" was eventually going to lead to early death in many Detroit youth. The major consumer of WIC and bridge card monies are convenience stores and liquor stores that also sell milk and lunch meat. Those without cars, or that can only carry a bag or two home on the bus just cannot shop for food in the City.

I find it so hard to believe that a major retailer would not make money here. Sure, most of the city isn't not rich (or even middle class) but everyone buys food. There were, before the closing of the Farmer Jack, TWO major chain grocery retailers. Now there are (I think) three mid level grocery stores.

If it isn't money? Then I have no choice but to assume it's race. Why open and market your business in a mostly Black, mostly poor city? They're worried that the lowlife will steal and loot and damage and just otherwise wreck the whole place, yet many in these neighborhoods actually state that the addition of a market would enhance their way of life.

I sure am glad that I have transportation to get me to shop in the burbs, but I'd much rather not have to do it.
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