Why Richmond Is a 'Food Desert'

Three major stores for 100,000 residents.

By Mike Anderson
|  Sunday, Nov 20, 2011  |  Updated 1:41 PM PDT
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Major grocery stores are avoiding Richmond for a variety of reasons.

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Don't get hungry in Richmond, you might need to wander through a "food desert."

That's how the U.S. Department of Agriculture classifies low-income communities that are more than a mile away from a major grocery store. About one-third of Richmond residents fall into that category.

The East Bay city with more than 100,000 people has just three full-service grocery stores within its city limits, Mitzi Mock of Richmond Confidential reports. But two of them are heavily used by neighboring El Cerito residents, so there's basically just one "Richmond" grocery store: Foods Co. on Macdonald Avenue.

"It turns out matching a grocery store to a retail location has many of the complexities and frustrations of matchmaking blind dates," Mock writes.

Economics, retail space, parking, demographics and picky checklists are all factors. Shallow city blocks also make it difficult for grocery stores to set up shop.

Whole Foods once told the city its checklist starts with the number of college graduates living within a certain radius. A Safeway even ditched Richmond for a new location in the more upscale El Cerrito.

Some stores such as Mi Pueblo and Fresh and Easy are actually interested in coming to town. The only thing stopping them is they can't find a location they like. Grocery Outlet even made an offer to lease an old building at San Pablo and Macdonald Avenue, but the property owner wanted more money.

“I’m coming from the perspective of a resident that is feeling frustrated, disrespected,” Janet Johnson said.

Some concerned residents and officials are tired of waiting for the grocery stores to come. They formed a food policy council this month to start planning for other food options such as farmer's markets and gardens.

Until then, Richmond still has plenty of fast food and liquor stores.

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