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VOL. 8 | NO. 50 | Saturday, December 5, 2015

Editorial: Neighborhoods are the Battleground in Grocery Wars

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The development of grocery clusters in Germantown and Midtown raises some important questions about supermarkets in other parts of the city.

If these clusters of retailers, each aimed at different segments of a larger, overlapping market, are the reality of a supermarket business that was dominated by one chain not too long ago, how will Memphis’ food deserts be affected?

Will retailers who have been courted as possible tenants for food deserts shift their plans to accommodate consumers in these grocery hubs?

If that is the case, we can add another item to a long list of reasons why reliable, accessible public transportation is urgently needed throughout Memphis. Food deserts cannot, and should not, be transportation deserts as well.

Several key pieces to the retail puzzle are still missing.

Kroger’s purchase of the large tract of land on Poplar Avenue near Cleveland Street – across Poplar from its recently renovated store – has raised questions about the grocery chain’s motives.

Local developers still are seeking an Uptown grocer on the site of the old Chism Trail supermarket at Danny Thomas Boulevard and Jackson Avenue, as well as one in Binghampton at Tillman Road and Sam Cooper Boulevard.

Early plans for a grocery store in the Central Station redevelopment didn’t pan out, but Downtown leaders are still hopeful for one in the South Main District. And the Memphis Farmers Market there is set to be relocated into a larger space that will be adaptable for other uses during the off-season.

Retailers clearly have changed their strategy from consolidation to one of seeing new opportunities. We believe that is driven by a change in our habits as consumers.

The map of where we choose to live is changing in our nearly 200-year-old city, where the business of groceries has long played a major role in the economy. The retail food business is reacting to those still-emerging changes.

We have a few concerns as this continues to unfold.

The city’s development code needs safeguards against the kind of street-corner wars we’ve seen recently among drugstore and dollar-store chains.

Grocery clusters are one thing. But mindless competition among retail chains is unnecessary and often detrimental; after all, there’s only so much business to go around.

We may not be able to turn down such development on the premise that the retailer could fail. But we must have the ability to inject reality into the assessment of such plans, even if that reality eludes a company bent on unreasonable expansion.

Such expansions and collapses or sales leave cities littered with empty storefronts and even big-box stores that make better development more difficult to attract.

We are the marketplace. That means we are more than consumers. In our city, there is a new blend of commercial and residential development closer together. It’s about more than our wallets. This is where we live.

PROPERTY SALES 51 328 20,960
MORTGAGES 58 387 24,132
BUILDING PERMITS 170 842 43,435
BANKRUPTCIES 50 288 13,468