Food deserts

The city of Anderson is attempting to entice a grocery store chain to locate in the closed Marsh store on Nichol Avenue.

ANDERSON — Bringing a new grocery store to the city’s west side requires the convergence of several factors, including housing density within a 5-mile radius of Edgewood Plaza, the desirable socioeconomics of the residents and the business goals of existing grocers or co-op operators, city officials said.

Economic Development Director Greg Winkler and Economic Development Specialist Levi Rinker said they have been working diligently for years to attract a grocer to the west side, but without the right mix of these factors, attracting one has proven to be an extremely hard sell.

“Of all the endeavors I have undertaken, attracting a grocery store to the west side of Anderson, or even downtown, has been the toughest assignment I’ve been given,” Winkler said.

They maintain an ongoing list of grocers they have wooed, a list that now stands at about 70, including some from the East Coast hoping to expand to the Midwest.

“I’ve basically had the Kroger’s rep say, ‘Don’t call me again. I’ll call you,’” Winkler said. “I look at the numbers, and it’s hard for me to see why someone would say no.”

But even incentives offered by the city, including a building and tax abatements, have not been enough to entice a grocer.

“The response is, ‘Wait, I’ve still got to stock it,’” Winkler said. “The problem is finding the opportunity and what tips them toward us.”

Playing on the need of the area has been a challenge, Rinker said. Grocers have responded that since they already are selling to westside residents, the drive clearly makes no difference.

“Stopping and getting groceries at Meijer, it’s inconvenient, but it’s not stopping people from getting food,” he said.

In fact, Winkler said, much of the food need on the west side is fulfilled by food from restaurants, delivery by services such as GrubHub and meal kits. That also cuts into potential grocery sales.

“The amount of eating out was not a whole lot less than the grocery number,” he said. “We actually are to the point that we’re eating out more than buying groceries.”

Housing density also attracts anchor retailers that act as a magnet for shoppers, which affects drive counts, another predictor of grocery success, Rinker said. The larger westside neighborhoods with higher housing densities lie to the east of the area heading toward Broadway Street, Rinker said.

“Obviously, the more dense an area, the more attractive it is,” he said.

Most grocers want to see intersections that attract 25,000 a day, but the Edgewood area attracts only about 6,000.

That’s why so many retailers are clustered on Scatterfield Road near Interstate 69, where an estimated 60,000 cars pass by daily, according to Indiana Department of Transportation statistics. And they are reaping the expected sales exactly where they are, Winkler said.

“It’s a no-brainer on I-69,” he said. “Why would they compete against themselves? And I’ve heard grocers literally say that.”

That also presents a sort of chicken and egg problem. Winkler said he’s been told by three unique sit-down restaurant operators they would open on the west side if there were a grocery store.

Among the greatest challenges is the varied socio-economic status of the west side’s 13,746 residents, Rinker and Winkler said. They include a range of five different types of households, including young families in extreme poverty to middle-class General Motors retirees who refuse to move and those with old money who live near the Anderson Country Club.

“(The grocers) have a different list of profiles they’re looking for. We all want to think we’re unique, but there are 63 types of people out there,” Rinker said. “When we look at trying to attract someone specific, we have to decide who we are.”

Having so many different types makes it difficult for grocers, who already complain of really tight profit margins, to know what they should carry to attract the most shoppers, Rinker said.

“They are not behaving, buying the products the grocers see fit,” he said. “Are you going to shop a Sav-a-Lot when you really want a higher-end cocktail sauce?”

Follow Rebecca R. Bibbs on Twitter at @RebeccaB_THB,

or call 765-640-4883.

Recommended for you