Supermarket Blackout

The lack of major food retailers is devastating African American communities. It's time to use your dollars to fill the gap.

groups during each trip to the grocery store. If the major food chains chose their locations based on the facts, supermarkets would be popping up all over black neighborhoods.

The scarcity of supermarkets in inner-city communities has serious consequences. After shelter, food is the second highest consumer expenditure. And because 25% of retail demand in inner cities is unmet, according to a 1998 study by the Boston Consulting Group, black neighborhoods lose billions of dollars at a faster rate than other communities. In addition, residents who choose to shop within the community spend their dollars inefficiently. A 1998 poll conducted by Supermarket Business magazine found that African Americans are more likely to shop at convenience stores, which means their purchases are significantly more costly than if they were to shop at mainstream supermarkets. The Boston Consulting Group also found that inner-city shoppers can pay as much as 40% more for basic groceries than their suburban counterparts. As a result, African American consumers are often forced to live without certain products or services, pay higher prices for goods within the community or shop outside their neighborhoods. In an ICIC focus group, Harlem residents discussed going elsewhere to find quality goods. "Sometimes six or eight of us share a van to New Jersey to go to BJ’s," one participant commented of their excursion to one of the new warehouse super retail stores.
< BR> Although prices are typically higher in African American neighborhoods than other areas, some argue it isn’t a "black thing," but an economic issue. "The single-store owners that predominate in black areas have a problem because they can’t buy the large volume that I buy," argues Johnson. The owner of 10 high-volume supermarkets, Johnson says, "It doesn’t just depend on the neighborhood, it depends on the size of the stores in that neighborhood."

Mitchell agrees, "The only way to truly assess pricing differences is to compare a supermarket in an African American community to the same type of supermarket in a suburban community or a white community. But the analysis gets screwed up because the national chains aren’t located in African American communities. What people do is compare the prices of a small one- or two-store business with prices at national chains. The smaller store’s prices are automatically going to be higher. It’s like comparing apples to oranges." Nevertheless, even if it’s not a "black thing," the expenses are real.

Lack of accessible, competitively priced quality goods isn’t the only downside to the missing supermarkets. Their absence from black communities also means that blacks are absent as supermarket owners and employees. According to the trade publication Progressive Grocer’s latest figures, there are 126,000 grocery chains in America. Of these, only a handful are owned by African Americans (see sidebar "Selected African American-Owned Supermarkets," next page). On the employment side, African Americans make up 12.2% of supermarket employees, with fewer than 5% of them in managerial positions. Not

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