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Report: Rochester to incentivize grocery stores to come to food deserts

Posted at 5:51 PM, Jun 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-02 17:51:17-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — The City of Rochester is committing $5 million in American Rescue Plan funding to recruit supermarkets in areas that currently lack access to healthy foods, according to 7 News' sister station 13WHAM.

It's an idea Buffalo Common Council President Darius Pridgen is interested in, especially with all the attention on his district and neighboring districts in Buffalo since the mass shooting in Buffalo on Jefferson Avenue.

"Would I consider incentives for a store? Absolutely," said Pridgen.

Tops Friendly Markets has remained closed since the shooting. The closure has put a spotlight on the food desert in Buffalo's east side, or as some pointedly call it, food apartheid.

"That Tops serviced most of the African American community on the east side of Buffalo," said Council Member Ulysees Wingo, who represents the Masten District.

However, Pridgen knows how difficult it can be to get a grocery store into some of the city's neighborhoods, even with government incentives. He looks to the 201 Ellicott Apartments development as an example. For years, officials had talked about a grocery store being part of that development.

"Not one major grocery store would come in. Braymiller came in, a local grocer, good grocer, came in to save the day, but it was a lesson learned," said Pridgen

Why do food deserts have such a hard time attracting grocery stores? It's a question Wegman gets so often that the company has written about the subject on its website.

"We operate a high-volume, low-price business; we require a lot of customers shopping in our stores to achieve the volume needed to be successful," the article says.

Pridgen says big box grocery stores might not be the answer anyway. He thinks the city needs to provide incentives to smaller, independent retailers.

"So imagine a Jefferson or another food desert area where there are specialty shops, butcher shops, as well as grocery stores. It can happen," said Pridgen.

Pridgen says for this to be successful, governments will have to give these independent retailers subsidies and tax breaks, similar to what's offered to major corporations.