What Fresh Hell Is This?

November 18, 2009

Hill District Will Have To Start All Over Again Looking For A Grocery Store

Pittsburgh's predominately African American Hill District neighborhood has been without a grocery store for 30 plus years. A year ago, it looked like they'd finally found an operator in Kuhn's Market but the deal has fallen through.

Kuhn's Market says that it's due to one of the owners of the chain of nine stores having cancer.

KDKA radio personality Fred Honsberger (via a FaceBook message) -- surprise, surprise -- is trying to blame it on recent talk of a prevailing wage law in City Council even though the Post-Gazette reports that "the plan began to stall over the summer."

Having lived in neighborhoods in NYC which were predominately minority and low income (Alphabet City, Harlem, etc.) and which had supermarkets, I have never understood how The Hill could have gone so long without some operator coming in to establish one -- especially if the City would have made this a top priority.

When you do your shopping for your Thanksgiving menu this year, try to imagine carting it all home on the bus -- make that on buses with transfers. Now, imagine doing that every week of the year.


Chris Potter said...

Re claims that the Kuhn's pull-out is tied to prevailing wage ... we first reported the shakiness of the grocer's participation more than a month ago. The New Pittsburgh Courier also had the story last week.

Heir to the Throne said...

I wonder if progressives/Democrats would allow a Walmart?
Or will they fight it like they did in Chicago and Los Angeles.

Maria said...

Regarding Walmart, the ones with full grocery stores are Super Walmarts that are very large in size -- I'm guessing too large to even be a possible issue in The Hill.

EdHeath said...

A Walmart landing in Squirrel Hill would drive a lot of the remaining small businesses out of business and exacerbate an already bad traffic situation. And it has that distasteful air of naked capitalism that progressives and Democrats decry (low prices that drive “mom and pop” out of business, and cut throat wages).

But I suspect even progressives and Democrats would remark on how good a jobs engine and how convenient a Walmart on the Hill would be. It would draw customers from surrounding (white) neighborhoods, and possibly spur some ancillary businesses, perhaps service type things.

But a Super Walmart would be a huge undertaking in an inner city neighborhood, probably too huge. Too bad, a good suggestion (in my opinion). Maybe Aldi will come back to the table.

Clyde Wynant said...

This all gets down to a very simple calculus.

You have to make the assumption one way of the other...

Is the lack of a grocery store a racist thing...or a business thing?

My sense is that, if someone thought they could make a buck in The Hill with a grocery store, they'd be all over it, black or white, red or green.

Certainly the current financial situation has stalled a lot of investment everywhere, so it's possible that this might get back on track if and when things improve.

But right now, everyone is holding their breath, and marginal investments are not being made.

And I repeat. I don't think (and I may be naive) that this is a black/white thing, I think it's a business thing....

Am I crazy?

Maria said...

I don't think you're crazy, but:

1) This has been going on for 30+ years so it cannot be chalked up to current economic conditions.

2) People there do buy food -- they just buy it elsewhere -- so there's a market for a market.

3) Similar neighborhoods in other cities are able to sustain supermarkets.

4) While Harlem in the 80s had supermarkets, it did not have any bank branches. And, yes, I would chalk that up to racisim as it certainly had the population to sustain at least one freaking bank branch.

Joshua said...

Maria, there are standalone Walmart supermarkets called Walmart Neighborhood Markets. It's certainly feasible to woo them. That being said, I think they're mostly in the South right now.

Bram Reichbaum said...

I wouldn't call it a racist thing but there is a perception of safety thing.

The area we call "the Hill" is actually several neighborhoods, which have relatively more safe and less safe parts. The trend has been toward more stability, whereas it's city neighborhoods to the far northeast that have been really problematic. 40 years worth of negative perceptions play a role.

There's no doubt that government intervention is needed to kick off an endeavor like a grocery in the Hill and change the dynamic. You don't want that intervention to be unreasoning, irresponsible and faith-based, but you do want to see it actively being pursued. It's such a smaller-scale risk than many of our other endeavors, and yet has so many more direct benefits to city residents.

FireFox said...

I find it interesting that the city has to find a way to draw in a company to open a grocery store in the Hill. They basically have to bribe them. If it was economically viable to have a store there, a store would have been opened at the cost of the store, a long time ago. I think the simple fact remains that no one wants to build a store there because it is unprofitable. Maybe it is that way because the store will have to contend with the much higher chance of burglary, shoplifting, or robbery. Who wants to deal with that when they can just open a store someplace better. I am a pretty firm believer that if something cannot maintain itself, it is not worth keeping. There are exceptions of course. But 30 years tells a long story.

Ladyburgh said...

A grocery store in this area is long long over due. They need a grocery store and a pharmacy.

I have visited the Walmart that opened in South Los Angeles. It is 3-level with an automated shopping cart elevator http://laist.com/attachments/la_kemp/100_5047.jpg. The space they are dealing with in Pittsburgh across the street from the Hill House in Pittsburgh may be too small so they would also need some sort of a parking structure to go with it.

I think it's a business thing. The store would draw the from downtown, Oakland, South Side. It would be more convenient and less expensive for people to catch the Lincoln (a bus) then to pay extra to go to other zones to shop at Walmart. Most white people would probably not go in the area after dark. I think it is a perception that the Hill is still the Hill.

My other thought is to use the space that will be vacated by the Mellon Arena for a Superwalmart. People may be willing to go up that far even after dark but I think they already have plans for that. I sent Walmart an email when I first heard of the pull-out but I don't think that will work :) I agree that some higher authority may need to step in.