JACKSON, MI – While a trip to the grocery store may be an easy task for some in Jackson, it’s a struggle for those living on the southside.
Residents in other parts of the city have access to Aldi, Meijer, Kroger or Walmart, all within a short drive, or even walking distance. But those on the southside aren’t as lucky, Jackson resident LaWanna Brown, 69, said.
“You should have a grocery store close by,” Brown said. “For a city with a population for 30,000 people, how many of those people live in this area that don’t have a grocery store?”
The food desert on Jackson’s southside is an issue that needs to be addressed to improve the quality of life of those living there, both residents and city officials say. Stepping up efforts to bring a grocery store to the area is one of the goals mentioned in Mayor Daniel Mahoney’s state of the city address.
But everyone knows it’s going to take work.
For many southside residents, the closest grocer is Kroger on Argyle Street, Polly’s Country Market in Spring Arbor or Meijer on E. Michigan Avenue. All are a within a 15-minute drive from the neighborhood.
The lack of closer access to a grocery store is a huge inconvenience, said Brown, who grew up on the southside of the city and moved back in 2014. She does most of her shopping at Walmart on W. Michigan Avenue, which is a 15-minute drive each way, which is huge trip just to grab groceries, she said.
And that’s just for those, like herself, who have access to a car, Brown said.
“I would be so lost if I didn’t drive. I have a car, I can get to those places,” Brown said. “You’ve got so many people who can’t drive, too many people who have to ride the bus. And when they ride the bus, they can only carry so many groceries.”
Tanoi Jackson, 53, who’s lived on the city’s southside for 22 years, also sees the struggle. She does most of her shopping at Kroger which, depending on traffic, could also take about 30 minutes there and back.
And, like other residents, the lack of a close store also forces her to sometimes shop at dollar stores on Martin Luther King Drive or Prospect Street, Jackson said. While they carry grocery items the supply sometimes can be scarce, and it no longer becomes a quick trip to the store, she said.
“If I’m in a bind and I need to get something really quick, there is no such thing as something near me,” Jackson said.
But it’s not just the drive that’s a struggle for southside residents. It’s also the lack of access to fresh produce, Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center Director Antonio Parker, said.
Last summer, outside the center at 1107 Adrian St., Grow Jackson hosted a community garden to offer fresh produce to southside residents. That was a huge benefit, but a grocery store is needed to provide produce year round, Parker said.
Related: Farm stand filled with bountiful harvest from Grow Jackson community garden now open
“It plays into the health factor of the community,” Parker said. “I could have a long day of work, and have to travel across town to go get fresh fruit and vegetables for my dinner, so I’m probably just going to find the most convenient thing to cook that day because I’m tired and ready to eat and I don’t want to travel across town.”
It wasn’t always this way on Jackson’s southside, however, Ward 1 City Councilwoman Arlene Robinson said. The area used to have three grocery stores, the last one being Shop & Save on Prospect Street, which closed around 20 years ago, she said.
Residents want to see the end of their food desert, Robinson said.
“We want a full grocer, one that would have meat, milk, vegetables and the whole grocery line – I mean, we’ve been a food desert for about 20 years,” Robinson said. “We don’t have anyone committed yet, but steps are being made to get someone to establish a grocer here. It’s a priority.”
The creation of the southside’s food desert has its roots in “redlining” practices that began in the 1930s, when federal programs were created to make loans and mortgages more affordable to encourage home ownership and suburban development, Mahoney said.
Except, neighborhoods that were mixed-race or predominantly Black didn’t benefit from these programs because they were redlined on maps and called high risk.
“This was intentional divestment of the southside,” Mahoney said. “Right now, what we are looking forward to is an intentional reinvestment in Jackson’s southside. So, we have to put those building blocks back in place, like grocery stores.”
In his state of the city Address, Mahoney said the city has goals for the southside in 2022, including bringing in new businesses, and helping existing ones grow. But most importantly, trying to bring in a grocery store, he said.
Related: Jackson is in the midst of a ‘renaissance,’ mayor says in State of the City Address
Attracting a grocer is a top priority for the Martin Luther King Corridor Improvement Authority, Mahoney said. The group will investigate spaces where a grocery store could fit, have community conversations and talk to potential grocers, Mahoney said.
“Everybody deserves to have a grocery store (close to home,” he said. “I don’t think it’s too farfetched with all of the incoming housing in the downtown area for a regular grocery store to be supported on the southside.”
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