MKE Equality: A Good Place To Start: Food

This little snippet appeared in the Business section of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently. It outlines efforts to close a local dollar store for being a neighborhood nuisance. The Common Council wants to deny them their food and vendor licenses that need to be renewed by July 1st or they would be forced to closed. This despite spending money to resolve the issues an effort which has apparently been successful.

Now, I am not really interested in the outcome of this immediate issue. The business and lawyers and city and lawyers will work out whatever. But what I am most interested in is this statement made on behalf of the store:

The store had sought a temporary restraining order after the Common Council voted last month not to renew the licenses it needs to operate, effective July 1, a move the store said would harm its many customers who shop for groceries with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits.

emphasis mine

It is common knowledge that many of our poorer neighborhoods are food deserts. Areas that don’t have access to fresh and plentiful food because of the lack of economic growth or the overall poverty in the area.

And apparently this neighborhood falls squarely in the definition of a food desert. If a dollar store is the source of groceries in the neighborhood, is it any wonder that the people living in the area have poor health results? Dollar stores are hardly sources for healthy food options, generally featuring snack foods, candies, and soft drinks. I can’t imagine having to rely on them for groceries.

It would seem imperative to do whatever the city can to bring grocers to the area. And although this has had a lot of discussion in the past, very little has been accomplished. But with the changes in the political and cultural environment, there should be energy to get something done now.

And we don’t need to build giant warehouse stores either. There is nothing wrong with encouraging and funding neighborhood groceries similar to what we had 50 years ago. Neighborhood business owners who hire local residents and sell to local residents. This certainly isn’t a simple task as it will take government funding and co-ordination to find locations, potential grocers, and startup/maintenance funds to get the thing off the ground. But if there ever was a time to find the will to do it, now is the time.

And there is no reason that government can’t put some pressure on the warehouse store companies to help provide funding…or training…or supply chains. Almost every company in America has publicly stated their commitment to equality and the elimination of systemic racism. Time to ask them to put their money where their mouth is. And remind them of the civic good will they can garner and take advantage of.

Local stores help provide stable neighborhoods. They provide stable jobs (and lets make them more than minimum wage jobs – lets do this right if we are going to do this). They provide healthier alternatives to dollar stores and gas stations. They are beneficial to their customers and in the long run better for our health care systems. And they are convenient…an obvious draw for a dollar store.

And it’s a visible investment in a community that has been significantly overlooked again and again and again.


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