Even $3 Million Isn’t Enough To Get Supermarkets In Dallas’s Food Deserts

Image courtesy of jayRaz

In a desert, there’s not very much water to go around. In a food desert, the problem is groceries: reliable, affordable supermarkets with fresh, healthy, decent-quality offerings get farther apart and harder to find as you head into some regions. One Texas city has been trying to solve the problem for thousands of its residents by ooffering large amounts of cash to supermarket retailers, but even the lure of free millions has resulted in no takers.

Dallas is a huge city, and, as in most cities, not all services and amenities are distributed equally. North Dallas, the Dallas News explains, is chock-full of high-quality supermarkets bursting with the array of healthy (and sometimes expensive) foods that higher-income consumers expect.

Southeast Dallas, meanwhile, is a food desert. Supermarkets are sparse, widely spread-out, and hard to access for residents, particularly those with limited or no access to a car. And that means that food options are often more expensive, more limited, and less healthy for folks in those parts of the city.

To try to fix the problem, city government attempted a tried-and-true strategy for wooing supermarkets: money. In July, the Dallas News reports, the city began to offer at least $3 million to any grocery store willing to sell fresh produce and other healthy foods in one of the food deserts in southern Dallas.

The city wasn’t quiet about their offer, either; it put out ads in grocery trade publications advertising the available bounty. But to no avail. The large Texas-based grocery chain H-E-B is opening two more Central Market stores in Dallas soon… but both are in the competition-filled northern half of the city.

“When I saw that story,” Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Erik Wilson told the Dallas News, “I was like, ‘Really? Really?‘”

Wilson has been attempting to draw large grocery partners to underserved and unserved sections of the city since he was first elected, the Dallas News reports. But despite all his efforts, supermarkets remain “unicorn[s] that we know exist, but just can’t seem to see” in the southern parts of town.

Wednesday was the deadline for the $3M offer, which hoped to garner at least one 25,000 square foot store that could serve as anchor for a new mixed-use development. However, just because this deadline is gone doesn’t mean nobody can ever get the cash. The pool of money is not going to just disappear, a city official told the Dallas news. If months or years from now, a developer still wants to come build the new kind of development the city is hoping for, Dallas officials will be more than happy to talk.

In 2007, roughly 400,000 Dallas County residents in low-income neighborhoods lacked access to healthy food shopping options. The situation has improved slightly since then, the Dallas News says, but one new Walmart and a couple of Save-A-Lots in the region haven’t done nearly enough. City council members keep asking, but so far the big supermarket chains in the region — Kroger and H-E-B, largely — aren’t answering.

So why are regional chains leaving money on the table? Demographics, reports the Dallas News. The southern parts of Dallas don’t fit desired “buying patterns” and “density.” And according to Wilson, concerns about theft are “an unspoken reason.”

The Texas Retailers Association told the Dallas News that a lack of public transit, the ubiquity of cheap fast-food, and an area reliance on SNAP benefits (food stamps) are also all roadblocks making grocery stores not want to come to the area.

Wilson, however, remains determined. “What we’re doing right now isn’t working,” he said. “But people have to eat.”

City Hall offered $3M to open a grocery store in a southern Dallas food desert and got no takers [Dallas News]

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