The need to protect local grocery stores

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- Years ago, people could walk to their neighborhood grocery stores specialized in whatever they needed. Today, local grocery stores are a rare sight, and not everyone has the means to get to a Wegmans or Kroger.

Sue Clements is the co-owner of Reid Super Save Market on Preston Avenue, which is one of the few remaining stores of its kind in Charlottesville.

"Small business today is hard,” said Clements. “It's hard and it's hard to compete with the larger chains.”

Reid's was founded in 1940 and it has always been known for its meat department. As other small markets started to die off, so did its competition when it came to quality foods, until a couple of years ago.

"We didn't have a lot of competition,” said Clements. “And then I think when Wegmans came in is when we probably took the biggest hit because they have a strong meat department, strong produce."

If you look at a map of grocery store locations in Charlottesville, you will notice that almost all of them are on the outskirts of the city, located on busy roads such as Fifth Street, Route 29, or along the 250 Bypass. This means there are very few stores that are walkable to people who live closer to downtown.

Shantell Bingham, the director of the Charlottesville Food Justice Network, said the loss of neighborhood markets is one of the results of urban renewal back in the 1960s.

"When we looked at people's homes being destroyed, and then we're saying these people can go live in public housing," said Bingham.

She said the removal of neighborhood grocery stores largely affects minorities and low-income families in the city because, if they don't have a car, it can be hard to get to fresh food.

"People are now more burning for more transportation to get there," said Bingham.

Bingham said the city needs more stores that are walkable and the city should do what it can to maintain these access points. She said this could possibly reduce the 15,000 people a year who rely on food pantries around the Charlottesville area.

"If someone's starting up a grocery store in the city that is affordable and can meet this need, we need to start protecting those as community assets," said Bingham.

Being walkable for their customers is one of Reid's assets that makes it stand out against the chain stores.

"Folks that visit us multiple times a day, they come and they get as much as they can carry,” said Clements. “And you may see them back later in the day getting another load or something else."

She says their customer service is also unmatched, allowing the store to maintain generations of customers.

"Our meat department takes calls, and we have Jean there who takes them and knows exactly what they want,” said Clements. “We try to get in anything that's asked for. We do special orders and things like that."

She said limiting chain stores would help locally-owned grocery stores, like them, grow.

"Don't bring anything else in here and help build up other small grocery stores,” said Clements.

This story is in partner with Charlottesville Tomorrow. Reporter Emily Hays takes a deeper look into the subject in the article in the Related Links box.

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