It took Kansas City, Kansas, residents and city officials by surprise this summer. A sign went up announcing that the Price Chopper at 43rd and State Avenue was going to close. Then before anyone knew it the shop’s lights darkened, the doors locked, and shoppers were forced to go elsewhere for fresh food.
Officials from the store’s operator, Balls Food Stores, have said that the location was underperforming.
The store’s closing is just the latest hit for the area, says Emily Brown of CEO and co-founder of Food Equality Initiative. She is also a resident of the neighborhood.
“As a resident in the neighborhood that store served, it was truly a shock to learn of the closing,” she says. “This is the third store in three years to close, and there’s economic buying power here. All of my neighbors are hardworking people and they deserve access to healthy, fresh food. The fact that I’ve seen three stores close and that is a huge eye-opening for Wyandotte County.”
This store’s closing could mean WIC shoppers – those using a federal grant program to get access to nutritional foods – have to go elsewhere, taking with them thousands or millions of dollars in revenue that would go to Wyandotte County.
The closing also means a loss of employment for those who worked there.
“It has an impact on everyone,” Brown says. “It is devastating. It takes away jobs. And Wyandotte was already struggling to increase the access to (healthy foods).”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture released data in 2010 that suggested at least a third of the population of Wyandotte County has “low access” to groceries, or lives more than a mile away from a major grocer.
“The closure of the only full service grocery store north of State Avenue and east of I-635 is a painful disappointment for residents of surrounding neighborhoods, who now have fewer opportunities to buy the healthy food they need,” says Beth Low-Smith, vice president, policy, of KC Healthy Kids. “It’s a common story among grocers operating aging stores in low income communities, urban and rural; renovation costs often exceed the cost of buying or building a newer store and outdated stores struggle to retain customer loyalty.”
Low-Smith and others continue projects to assist those who live in places where fresh food centers and grocers are few.
“KC Healthy Kids has been working to establish Fresh Food Funds by local governments to cover funding gaps for renovating grocery stores, preventing closures such as this one,” Low-Smith says.
Stores may close for different reasons, with generating revenue the biggest cause.
In this case, Brown wonders about the investment managers could have put into the parking lot, or into the store itself, to make shopping there more inviting for customers.
“That is one of the challenges,” Brown says. “I think they said that the store didn’t earn a profit in the last three years. There are difficult decisions to make in order to survive and how can you expect a business to grow if you have not invested? I understand the grocery business is complicated, but I know all residents want fresh, clean stores, and access to affordable healthy food. There has to be a way.”
Whatever the reason, that community near the store is having to find somewhere else to do its grocery shopping. And the fallout of its closing will soon be known.
“It really was a sideswipe,” Brown says. “They put the sign up and it was closed in a week. There was not much time for anyone to react or organize. It was done.”