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Michelle Brown stomped through the spitting rain, plastic grocery sack filled with lemonade and Swisher Sweets swinging at her side. The walk back to her apartment was a handful of blocks.
“Now we’re forced to go to the corner store. Don’t nobody want to buy no meat and (expletive) from there.”
But while the trip to the corner market was a chore for Brown, across town it’s a treat for Katherine Marcus. Or at least it is for her 2-year-old daughter.
“They have a good deal if you get the yogurt and organic milk.”
Brown was coming from the Westside Supermarket. Marcus was at the Dorothy Lane Market. The markets are only six miles apart — about a 12-minute drive — but that understates the distance between them.
The Westside Supermarket on Germantown Pike in west Dayton abuts the city’s most impoverished area. The census tract’s median household income is $16,028. More than half of the households are on food stamps. More than a quarter of the residents are children living in poverty.
Dorothy Lane Market on Far Hills Avenue, however, is the closest supermarket to affluent west Oakwood. There, the median household income is $125,721. There are no food stamp recipients.
There are similarities. For one, both neighborhood are strikingly homogenous: West Oakwood is 98 percent white. West Dayton is 99 percent black.
And both neighborhoods have a little over 2,000 people, all of whom need to eat.
|% high school graduate||98.1|
|% bachelor's degree or higher||78|
|Median income 1||$125,721|
|% below poverty level 2||3|
|% children below poverty level||2.7|
|Households receiving food stamps||0|
|% worked 50-52 weeks in previous year||64.6|
“I normally buy things here I can’t get in other stores. National brand items I don’t purchase here, I’ll purchase from Meijer or Kroger. But I like to come here for the sushi, the deli, the meat department especially,” said Catherine Rader, who stopped in to pick up some specialty chicken patties.
Several patrons noted the quality of the store’s meat as a major draw.
|% HS graduate||82.4|
|% bachelor's degree or higher||5.5|
|Median income 1||$16,028|
|% below poverty level 2||61.4|
|% children below poverty level||82.6|
|Households receiving food stamps||514|
|% worked 50-52 weeks in previous year||33.1|
The coming rainstorm broke up the dice game young men played on the sidewalk in front of the Westside Supermarket. A sign on the solid, fence-covered door reads: “No selling contraband, CD’s or videos of any sort on this property AT ANYTIME.”
One of the owners, Sam Saleh, said he has a butcher cut and package meat daily.
“We cut on a daily basis what we need for that day,” he said. “We have a good business here on the meat, especially on the first of the month,” he said, explaining that about 75 percent of his business is in food stamps.
“When people come to a carryout store, a small store, they know they get higher prices,” he said. “It’s a convenience store, but it’s not like a big store where we have sales every week for certain items and stuff like that.”
Kevin Peoples used to live in that area until he recently moved to a nicer neighborhood in northeast Dayton. In both areas, he claims he would see shop owners buy items on sale at Aldi’s or Walmart and mark it up for sale in the corner store.
“They buy the dollar lotion, they come back to us, we gotta pay $1.89. They’re getting a nice little profit,” he said.
This is more than just an annoyance or a gripe for people in west Dayton. It’s even more than an inefficient use of the federal food stamp program. It’s a public health mess.
The county health district calls the area around Westside Supermarket a “food desert.” They are more than a mile from a supermarket. And in some neighborhoods a third of the population has no access to a vehicle.
So hunger drives them to the corner store, and whatever the aisles there contain.
“A lot of time they’re not healthy foods, fresh fruits and vegetables, grains and things of that nature. So there are things we have here at public health trying to address that,” Freeman said.
Michelle Brown doesn’t have a car, so a friend drives her to Kroger on West Siebenthaler Avenue once a week for groceries. It’s more than five miles away. About an 11-minute drive.
“It’s fresher and I like their cuts better and I think the products are better for you,” she said.
There, apples are $1.49 a pound and milk is $2.59 a gallon with a Kroger card. The prices are the same at the Kroger on Stroop Road where Katherine Marcus stops by around three times a week.
Kroger closed its store on Gettysburg Avenue in west Dayton – five minutes from Brown’s apartment — in winter 2007.
“It hasn’t been a successful store for us,” said a company spokeswoman at the time. The same week, the company opened an enlarged store in Englewood.
Months later, another west-side market closed when its owner retired. No one bought it, so it sits boarded up.
In the years since, little has improved for the economy of west Dayton. The median income for Brown’s neighborhood is the lowest in five years.
Dorothy Lane Market, meanwhile, just invested $1.3 million into its Oakwood store, including adding a craft beer bar.
County health officials have turned to creativity to address this disparity.
“We can’t do a whole lot about getting grocery stores into those areas (in west Dayton), but we can utilize corner stores,” Freeman said. “We’re looking at putting some of the healthier options at lease on one of those aisles.”
She said store owners are willing, but distribution networks aren’t set up for that. “Obviously your fresh produce does not have as high a shelf life as Fritos, sodas or things of that nature,” she said.
They are even exploring equipping a retired RTA bus to serve as a mobile farmer’s market, stocked with food from local farms and visiting the neighborhoods routinely.
Note: Final audio clip was from Linda Colton, who lives with her son and two grandbabies a couple blocks from the Westside Supermarket. She has a car and shops mostly at Walmart