Supermarket Blackout

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

low-income communities. The company’s CEO, Henry T. Baines Sr., admits that the supermarket is also experiencing competitive pressures from the big chains returning to the inner city.

Local opposition in Harlem kept the Pathmark project on hold for years. Small merchants argued that the heavyweight food retailer would put them out of business. "Our consultants conducted studies that proved otherwise," explains Rich Savner, director of public affairs for Pathmark stores. "Although there is natural attrition of stores that close and open around our supermarkets, that’s not to say we’re directly responsible."

G. Lamont Blackstone, vice president of The Retail Initiative Inc. (TRI), agrees. As one of the three partnering organizations-the Community Association of the East Harlem Triangle and the Abyssinian Development Corp. are the other two-TRI claimed the fear expressed by local merchants was unwarranted. "There is a tremendous amount of purchasing power that was not captured by this market, and a number of Harlem consumers are going outside the area for goods."

In support of the project, residents signed petitions and lobbied local community leaders. Their efforts bore fruit: the new Pathmark created more than 275 jobs. Two members of the supermarket’s three-person management team are black. "We’ve agreed that at least 75% of the store’s work force will come from local residents," says Savner. The store also set up a matching donation program for various community groups, including The Boy’s Choir of Harlem, The Girl’s Choir of Harlem, The Horizon Youth Center and The Harlem Dowling Center for Children and Families. "We are involved in the community beyond operating a supermarket," adds Savner. The 24-hour full-service Pathmark will serve as an anchor for a 55,000-square-foot retail development with rooftop parking for 130 cars. The store itself has a branch of Chase Manhattan Bank and a pharmacy.

More success stories should emerge as other chains follow Pathmark’s lead. Lucky/Sav-On is a prime example. The combination supermarket/drug store will serve as the anchor of a 110,000-square-foot shopping center in inner-city San Diego.

Nevertheless, Johnson says the major chains should do more. "Big corporations haven’t looked at minorities as viable consumers until recently," he explains. "They say they are trying to service them, but we still aren’t fairly represented on corporate boards and in employment. They need to change more quickly."
If you’re ready to take action, try these suggestions to attract more quality grocers to your neighborhood:

  • Identify opportunities. Make a list of the products and services that are missing in your community and present it to local merchants. Or, if you’ve always wanted to start your own business, discover ways you can fill the void.
  • Join community organizations. "In many cases, these efforts are spearheaded by local groups," says Blackstone. Residents can direct their concerns to their local Community Development Corp. chamber of commerce or Better Business Bureau. "These associations make things happen," Blackstone adds.
  • Support the stores in your community. If you are happy with a grocer in
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