Perishable Goods in the 'Hood | Pittsburgh City Paper

Perishable Goods in the 'Hood

Black leaders bemoan lack of grocery stores in their neighborhoods

When does a neighborhood that has gained 1,500 new housing units in the past five years -- a neighborhood where a home sold for more than $300,000 recently -- have trouble getting a grocery store to move in?


When that neighborhood is the Hill District.


Because few grocery stores can be found in the poorest and blackest neighborhoods -- which are often the same neighborhoods -- state Rep. Jake Wheatley (D-Hill District) held a hearing Oct. 4 at the Hill House to examine how the state might intervene. He held out the possibility of state-run grocery stores, although City Councilor Sala Udin questioned their legality. Also testifying were Irving Williams, head of Ebony Development Corporation and Danita Solomon of the Hill District Community Development Corporation -- both responsible for new office and retail building in the neighborhood and players in the revitalization efforts planned for the Hill's main drag, Centre Avenue.


Erin Dalton, who with eight fellow Carnegie Mellon University students released research this summer confirming the supermarket blackout in urban areas (see News Briefs: "Shelf-Reliance: Studying Supermarket Scarcity in Black Areas," Aug. 28), testified that her findings showed the predominantly black Hill District had the income and the population density to support a grocery store. But just 9 percent of all supermarkets are found in the densest county localities. Race seems to be even more of a factor in grocery-store placement: Just 3 percent of all supermarkets (that is, one store in the county) are found in any city neighborhood or county municipality with a black population over 60 percent.


Williams and Udin noted that a supermarket in the Hill would serve more than just one neighborhood, potentially covering Downtown, Polish Hill and parts of Oakland.


Lincoln-Larimer CDC Executive Director Judith Ginyard, who has long said major grocery-chain suitors are ready to build in her neighborhood but are stymied by the city (see cover story, "Grocer Inequities," April 16), testified to the ripple effects of having no supermarket. Senior citizens whose medications must be taken with certain foods find them unavailable; large families with large grocery bills sometimes resort to convenience stores.


There are practical difficulties with a Hill grocery -- potential lack of parking space for one, pointed out state Rep. Don Walko (D-North Side).


"Most urbanites are used to not having available parking," responded Irv Williams, who proposed underground or even rooftop parking at any potential store.


As Danita Solomon told the hearing, there is a similar lack of supermarkets in poor, black neighborhoods in almost every other major city nationally. Asked by Wheatley if more money to organizations like hers could be a solution, she answered, "We can only hope."