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Strings of colorful banners stretch outside of south Jackson’s new Jackson Cash & Carry wholesale grocery store, celebrating its opening and — possibly more significantly — its role in reversing the area’s status as a food desert.
With 50,000 square feet and a large parking lot, this former Kroger store on Terry Road is beckoning large crowds of customers. But, two months after opening, shoppers haven’t swarmed into Jackson Cash & Carry.
“Usually when a grocery store leaves, it takes a long time — you start getting people out of their normal habits and they start going to other stores,” said Ronnie Crudup Jr., a partner with the community organizing coalition Working Together Jackson.
That’s why Working Together Jackson is hosting a “Buy-in Blitz” on July 30 at 2 p.m. at Jackson Cash & Carry to encourage the community to continue supporting the grocery.
In May 2017, this black-owned store opened filling the physical and social void that Kroger left when it closed in early 2015, creating a food desert in this part of South Jackson.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food deserts as areas “void of fresh fruit, vegetables and other healthful whole foods,” essentially meaning that there is no grocery store in that area. Such areas are usually impoverished, which often deters grocery stores from moving in, according to the nonprofit Feeding Children Everywhere that combats hunger around the world.
According to Crudup, south Jackson was already teetering on becoming a food desert. Kroger’s closing solidified the issue.
When an area has no grocery store, its residents are forced to drive farther for healthy food, if they have viable transportation. For those with transportation, they can drive to another area grocery store or take advantage of certain programs like those provided by the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce.
Some of the agency’s programs provide vouchers to clients to the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program and low-income senior citizens that can be redeemed for fresh fruits and vegetables at authorized farmers markets. Another one of its programs, a partnership with AARP, allows shoppers eligible for food assistance to utilize up to $20 in food-assistance dollars at farmers markets for purchasing fruits and vegetables.
Those without feasible means of transport, are forced to consume what’s close. Crudup says it’s not the people with cars you have to worry about, it’s the people with no access to transportation that suffer.
“Those people are subject to shop at the local Family Dollar, Walgreens or gas station to get their groceries and that’s not good,” Crudup said. “People need healthy products and healthy food as well.”
‘Disproportionately affecting the poor’
Some of the possible effects of living in a food desert include diabetes, high blood pressure, anemia, asthma and obesity, according to the nationwide network of food banks called Feeding America. When children face such hunger issue, not only can they develop these health issues, but they also can suffer from developmental setbacks.
South Jackson’s food insecurity is illustrative of the larger food insecurity epidemic affecting the population throughout Mississippi. The USDA describes food insecurity as “a lack of access to enough food for a healthy lifestyle and limited availability of nutritionally adequate foods.”
Counties in the South have the highest average food-insecurity rate in the country at 16.1 percent. Mississippi’s average food insecurity rate is about 22 percent. Seven of the 10 counties with the highest food insecurity rates in the nation are located in Mississippi. Hinds County, where Jackson is located, has an even higher food insecurity rate than the region and the state at approximately 26 percent.
To keep this rate from increasing, local leaders and community activists searched for other grocery stores that could remedy south Jackson’s food desert. In the process, they were guaranteed Kroger would not put a deed restriction on the property, keeping another grocery store from coming in as an anti-competition tactic. This tactic is common in the supermarket industry but can seriously harm urban areas where it’s hard to find real estate large enough to accommodate a grocery store.
Some recent legislative attempts to address the food desert problem have not been fruitful.
Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson, was part of the effort to get Jackson Cash & Carry settled in south Jackson and recently sponsored food-desert related legislation, Senate Bill 2242. The bill would have authorized a property or sales tax incentive for supermarkets residing in economically distressed areas, but it died in the House.
“One of the biggest problems is that [food deserts are] disproportionately affecting the poor and their needs are going unmet,” said Horhn, who is also chairman of the Senate Economic Development Committee and a member of the Public Health and Welfare Senate Committee. “This is business as usual in Mississippi, as far as I’m concerned.”
Anchoring a neighborhood
Nonetheless, Greg and Chester Price, business partners of the former Jackson Cash & Carry on West Capitol Street, hope to prove their business model can help alleviate the problems of food insecurity.
They agreed to move their services to an area that needed them more. With the help of a loan from Hope Credit Union, they were able to purchase the building from Kroger.
Their south Jackson location offers various service areas such a deli counter, floral department and a bakery, and sells wholesale food and commercial items for restaurants, without requiring a membership.
“We have a lot to offer the community,” said Greg Price, who spoke on the partners’ behalf. “To have a grocery store is an anchor and is the beginning of having a neighborhood.”
Sonny Bolls of Clinton said he comes to Jackson Cash & Carry for lunch and sometimes breakfast, and says there’s a good possibility that he’ll soon start shopping there for groceries, too.
Bolls, who works in the area and is a former resident of south Jackson, says this store is important because there already are many food deserts around Mississippi.
“In order for minority businesses to thrive, we all have to be a part of making it happen,” Bolls said.
Price hopes Sunday’s event will do just that by helping increase traffic and make people aware that the store is open. The store’s revenue is better now than at its previous location, according to Price, but the business partners still need more customers to dig them out of the debt they acquired when buying the building.
“If you’re going to mature, you’re going to have debt,” Price said. “That’s the way life works. At the moment it’s debt, but it’ll sustain itself in the end.”
On top of the debt, it wasn’t an easy move. Greg, who grew up in Hattiesburg, said they had grown close to the people in their west Jackson neighborhood over the span of 11 years. Fortunately, more than half of their old customers have followed them to the new location, Price said. But he knew south Jackson needed a grocery store.
Price, who has been in the grocery business for about 40 years, said, “everyone deserves to have access to fresh fruits and vegetables.”