Richmond’s food deserts are getting hit over the head with sobering news in the past few days. Within the past 48 hours, Jim Scanlon who once had ambitious plans to build a Jim’s Local Market in Richmond’s East End announced he would be closing his Norfolk store. Here is what the Richmond Time’s Dispatch had to say about the announcement:
“Grocery store operator Jim Scanlon is closing his visionary store Jim’s Local Market that was created to address the scarcity of supermarkets in a low-income community in Newport News.
The store is closing Wednesday.
‘It’s just that the sales are not there, and the profitability is not there. It’s not working out,’ Scanlon said Monday.”
This announcement comes after Mr. Scanlon announced last year that he would not be opening a store in Richmond’s East End. The East End development team has had to move on without him to develop a backup plan as a result. The announcement has caused concern in the neighborhood as described recently on Church Hill People’s News:
“Given the association between Jim, his closing store, and the East End Grocery, Church Hill and East End folks have expressed concern about the viability of the project.”
In Manchester it is no different. Thalhimer Cushman & Wakefield has been working for years to secure a commitment for a grocery store operator such as Lidl, Aldi, Kroger, and Publix at their planned City View Marketplace development at 5th and Hull Street. They have had no success.
And just last night, Harper Associates along with their attorney Preston Lloyd of Williams Mullen formally announced at a community meeting that they have been trying for years to secure an anchor grocery tenant for their retail development at the old Allegheny Warehouses. They have had absolutely zero luck. They are now proposing to build a residential development of approximately 150 townhomes instead. They tentatively plan to leave an approximate 20,000 square foot retail space open for a future grocery tenant should one of the aforementioned operators have a change of heart at some future point.
Given all the bad news, it seems as if filling the food deserts of Southside is going to be very difficult. While the East End grocery stands a strong chance of being developed, its construction and future operation will almost certainly be dependent upon philanthropists and various corporate benefactors’ willingness to donate large sums of money to subsidize an unprofitable grocery operation for a very long time.
If that turns out to be the case, the logical questions to ask is what happens to these socially commendable food desert grocers if their corporate benefactors lose interest? What if another recession hits? What happens if their businesses hit a rough patch and their source of funds dry up as a result?
Unfortunately, we are left with more questions than answers at this point. It sure seems as if Manchester and Swansboro have a good long while to wait until a full size grocer will even consider the neighborhoods for a new store. And that possible future consideration appears entirely dependent upon more residential density, and a desire by the grocery store operators for higher average incomes in the area.
It is sobering news for an area that is developing quickly, but still appears to have a long way to go before its food desert thirst is finally quenched.