By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
Birmingham neighborhood leaders and residents on Tuesday applauded an announcement that the city has set aside $2 million to attract “at least” two brand name grocery stores to underserved areas.
Mayor Randall Woodfin made the announcement about the recruitment efforts at City Hall.
“When we talk about neighborhood revitalization, part of that conversation has to always include our citizens being in proximity to healthy food,” Woodfin said. “We have too many food deserts throughout our city, and that’s unfortunate and unfair for our citizens.”
To bring in the stores, a city-wide supermarket program will be established that will identify potential sites for the stores and determine if the city will need to assist with the actual development of the locations, the mayor said.
Frank Woodson, chair of the Five Points West Chamber of Commerce, said he appreciates the direction Woodfin is taking with giving businesses incentives to enter various communities around the city.
“The mayor is saying, ‘Look, we’ll provide the incentives that are needed to get the type of grocery stores that meet the needs of our citizens,’” Woodson said. “I think that it’s a step forward.”
Woodson said he knows the value of having a supermarket in the community.
“When we had our Winn-Dixie, we had hot meals…when it comes to precooked meals and seniors that may not have the ability to cook meals then [not having those hot meals] puts a greater strain on them,” Woodson said. “It wasn’t just the ability to buy groceries, it’s also the services that come along with that.”
Evanne Gibson, president of the West End community, said there are stores in her neighborhood community but that they don’t offer as much as bigger grocery chains.
“If I wanted to go get some flowers, or even to a deli, I would have to go Lakeshore, I would have to go downtown or Homewood,” Gibson said, “but if we had one in our community…it would be so convenient.”
Faith Abraham, president of the North Pratt Neighborhood Association, said without driving five miles out of the way, there is only one grocery store in her area.
“It’d be nice to have something where we have a lot more nutritious food more readily available, without having to drive across town,” Abraham said, “or people coming in from work having to go outside of their areas…outside of the route home.”
Cornell Wesley, the city’s director of innovation and economic opportunity, said he was hopeful about what the recruitment effort could do for the city.
“I am excited about the potential of residents having access to stores brimming with fresh vegetables, fruits and meats,” Wesley said. “We see the value in investing in our communities and believe grocers will too.”
Willie Wooten, president of the South East Lake Neighborhood Association, said he has two stores in his neighborhood—a small market and an expensive bigger store.
“My desire would be to get a name-brand chain grocery store in there that has competitive prices, [where] everything isn’t just high off the roof,” Wooten said, “affordable for people in that area when going shopping.”
Wooten said he would like for the neighborhood to have an affordable variety of goods available “around the corner” and added the former Banks High School building in his neighborhood would be a good spot for a grocery store that could serve residents throughout the Roebuck-South East Lake community.
Wiley Short, president of the Spring Lake Neighborhood Association, said his area of Birmingham doesn’t have many grocery options.
“We’re missing out on having a nicer [grocery] option to go to, that I’m sure will be patronized…the eastern side is the largest tax base in the city,” Short said, “and we feel like we’re just not getting what we deserve.”