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Wednesday 20 September 2017
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Syracuse’s South Side is No Longer a “Food Desert”

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Op/Ed By Kofi Quaye –

 

kofi_quayeTo most Syracuse south side residents like Peter Wynn, the absence of a supermarket in the immediate vicinity of their homes presented a huge problem for many years.

It meant driving a few miles to Western Lights, or Valley Plaza, just to do grocery shopping.

There is no Wegmans, Price Chopper or Tops in the neighborhood where he lives.

As a result, he looked forward to the day when his side of town would have its own supermarket. And, when he became aware of a community-based campaign which had been launched with the aim of advocating for a supermarket on the Southside, he decided to get involved.

Wynn participated in several meetings, and the discussions focused on formulating a strategy to either create a supermarket that was owned, operated and managed by the community, or to negotiate with one of the Syracuse-based supermarket chains to open a branch.

The issue was not about who would own and run such a supermarket for Wynn and other community residents, but about finding a way to make the new store a reality.

Led by Walter Dixie, executive director of Time of Jubilee, the purchase of a property on South Ave. and Bellevue was a major milestone in the process.

At that point, Wynn said he knew it was only a matter of time. That was Sunday, April 2, when Price Rite opened its second grocery and produce depot outlet in Syracuse on South Ave.

And, for residents of the south side, it was perfect timing.

No more trips outside the neighborhood.

Now, they have the option of going to a supermarket located in close proximity to where they live, and Wynn only has to travel only a couple of blocks from his house. The store is literally around the corner.

The sense of relief is real in this community.

It is a huge step forward in resolving a number of issues facing the African-American community.

The absence of a supermarket on South Ave. was a major contributing factor in making the south side a food desert, the kind of dubious distinction many don’t want for the community in which they live.

Food deserts are described in the media as being neighborhoods with predominantly African-American populations, characterized by an absence of grocery stores which stock large varieties of fresh vegetables, fruits, and other types of produce.

As a result, neighborhood residents are forced to buy groceries from convenience and corner stores, where prices are high, and selections severely limited to items that often do not meet their standards.

The fact that the Price Rite grocery depot fills a void is beyond question.

I checked it out on a Monday evening, and it was busy. There were long lines of people entering and exiting, and the huge parking lot was full of vehicles.

And, the section for vegetables, fruits and other types of produce displayed the largest array of goods I have seen in any grocery store.

The social and economic ramifications are also evident. The new South Ave. store has created a number of jobs, and appears to have infused new life into the neighborhood.

Its imposing edifice on the corner of Bellevue and South Ave. has also changed the atmosphere in the immediate vicinity. The neighborhood looks cleaner, busier and revitalized.

It is a monumental accomplishment that was made possible by the combined efforts of the entire community.

The question is: what happens now?

The management has to make a conscious and concerted effort to engage with the community by supporting community-based activities and programs, as well as using black media to advertise sales and other special events.

These will be perceived as verifiable ways to give back to the community.

The majority of south side convenience store owners are foreigners who don’t live in the community, and they have been criticized for taking black dollars out of the community, and not giving them back.  The relationship between community members and store owners is lukewarm, at best.

Hopefully, Price Rite can do better. Last but not least, the management of Price Rite should keep the fresh food products available consistently, with no lapses in quality or quantity. Anything less would justify the community’s usual fears and concerns that the store’s owners don’t think black people deserve the best, and that they are here only to be exploited, just like at other neighborhood stores.

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