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 South Side.
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 South Side aren’t so lucky, said LaWanna Brown, 69, of Jackson.
“You should have a grocery store nearby,” Brown said. “For a city of 30,000, how many people live in this area that don’t have a grocery store?”
The food desert on Jackson’s south side is an issue that needs to be addressed to improve the quality of life for the people who live 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 will take work.
For many Southside residents, the nearest grocery store is Kroger on Argyle Street, Polly’s Country Market on Spring Arbor, or Meijer on E. Michigan Avenue. All are within a 15 minute drive of the neighborhood.
The lack of closer access to a grocery store is a major inconvenience, said Brown, who grew up south of the city and retired in 2014. She does most of her shopping at Walmart on W. Michigan Avenue, which is a 15-minute drive each way, which is a huge trip just to get groceries, she said.
And that’s only for those who, like her, have access to a car, Brown said.
“I would be so lost if I hadn’t been driving. I have a car, I can get to those places,” Brown said. “There are so many people who can’t drive, too many people who have to take the bus. And if they take the bus, they can only take so much groceries with them.”
Tanoi Jackson, 53, who has lived in the south of the city for 22 years, also sees the fight. She does most of her shopping at Kroger, which can take about 30 minutes round-trip depending on traffic.
And like other residents, the lack of a nearby shop also forces them to sometimes shop at dollar stores on Martin Luther King Drive or Prospect Street, Jackson said. While they’re carrying groceries, supplies can sometimes run out, and it no longer becomes a quick trip to the store, she said.
“When I’m in a tight spot and I need to get something real quick, there’s nowhere near me,” Jackson said.
But it’s not just the ride that’s troubling Southside residents. So is the lack of access to fresh produce, said Antonio Parker, director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center.
Last summer, Grow Jackson hosted a community garden off-center at 1107 Adrian St. to offer fresh produce to Southside residents. That was a big benefit, but a grocery store is required to supply produce year-round, Parker said.
Related: Farmstand filled with bountiful harvest from the Grow Jackson community garden now open
“It plays a role in the health factor of the community,” Parker said. “I might have a long day at work and travel across town to get fresh fruit and veg for my dinner, so I’ll probably just find the most convenient thing to cook that day because I’m tired and ready to eat and I don’t want to drive across town.”
But it wasn’t always like this on Jackson’s south side, said Ward 1 councilwoman Arlene Robinson. There used to be three grocery stores in the area, the last being Shop & Save on Prospect Street, which closed about 20 years ago, she said.
Residents want to see the end of their food desert, Robinson said.
“We want a full fledged grocer, one that has meat, dairy, vegetables, the entire grocery line — I mean, we’ve been a grocery desert for about 20 years,” Robinson said. “We haven’t signed anyone up yet but steps are being taken to get someone to set up a grocer here. It has priority.”
The creation of the Southside’s food desert has roots in “redlining” practices that began in the 1930s, when federal programs were created to make borrowing and mortgages more affordable to encourage homeownership and suburban development, Mahoney said.
Except that neighborhoods that were multiracial or mostly black didn’t benefit from these programs because they were marked red on maps and labeled as high risk.
“This was a deliberate Southside divestment,” Mahoney said. “For now, we look forward to a deliberate reinvestment in Jackson’s Southside. So we have to put these building blocks back in place, like grocery stores.”
In his speech on the city’s state, Mahoney said the city has goals for the South Side in 2022, including attracting new businesses and helping existing businesses grow. But most importantly, try to bring in a grocery store, he said.
Related: Jackson is in the midst of a “renaissance,” says the mayor in the State of the City Address
Attracting a grocer is a top priority for Martin Luther King’s corridor improvement agency, Mahoney said. The group will study spaces that a grocery store might fit, conduct community conversations and speak to potential grocers, Mahoney said.
“Everyone deserves to have a grocery store (close to home),” he said. “I don’t think with all the apartments coming downtown it’s too far-fetched to support a regular South Side grocery store.”
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