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New grocery store at 39th and Prospect aims to be oasis in food desert

Updated: 2014-02-03T03:46:56Z

By LYNN HORSLEY

The Kansas City Star

Ida Dockery drives eight miles from her home in Kansas City’s Ivanhoe neighborhood to the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Raytown to find a grocery store with a large selection and plenty of fresh produce.

Gary Welch lives at 40th Street and Woodland Avenue, near Dockery, but doesn’t have a car, so he relies on friends to take him more than a mile away to a Save-A-Lot grocery at 34th Street and Troost Avenue.

Bertha Gardner, 82, lives at East 38th Street and Highland Avenue but also doesn’t drive, so she waits for her kids to bring her groceries from outlying stores.

All three say they can’t wait for the full-service grocery that’s finally opening Monday at 39th Street and Prospect Avenue, just blocks from their homes.

“It’s the greatest thing that could’ve happened for us,” Gardner said of the new Aldi store. A resident of the area since 1969, Gardner recalls how she used to have three grocery stores nearby, but they all closed or moved away in the 1980s.

“I like going to the store to buy my own stuff,” she said. “Now I will be able to do that.”

In the suburbs, a grocery is about as ho-hum as it gets, with many upscale food palaces located across the street from one another or just blocks apart. Not so in Ivanhoe and other urban-core neighborhoods, where Third District Councilman Jermaine Reed, who represents the area, said a full-service grocery is indeed a big deal — big enough to celebrate with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday.

“We are looking at eliminating the food desert in the Third District, and right in the heart of the urban core, and this is just the starting point for so much more to come,” Reed said Friday while standing in the store as workers scurried to stock the shelves ahead of Monday’s opening.

Plans for the grocery store began 10 years ago, and Reed said finishing the project became one of his top priorities when he was elected in 2011. He said the plea for a decent grocery was one of the most common refrains he heard from people at the barbershop and church and in calls to his office.

He said it wasn’t uncommon at community meetings to have “a little old lady grab my hand and say, ‘Honey, I don’t have a place to go buy groceries. Can you help me?’ 

Mayor Sly James, who like Reed will be at Monday’s grand opening, agreed.

“This is not just a place to buy food,” he said. “This is a place to rebuild a community.”

Margaret May, executive director of the Ivanhoe Neighborhood Council, said good-quality grocery stores are something that neighborhood residents never take for granted. There are other full-service groceries, including Sunfresh in the Blue Parkway Shops, Aldi at 63rd Street and Troost Avenue, and Price Chopper near East 63rd Street and Blue Ridge Cutoff, but all are at least several miles away. That can make it difficult and inconvenient just to get basic necessities.

“About 35 percent of people in Ivanhoe don’t have transportation,” May said.

She said having a closer grocery was paramount, but residents also pleaded for healthy choice items like fresh produce and lean meats to combat diabetes and other chronic illnesses. Aldi’s selection met those demands.

Mark Bersted, division vice president for Aldi in Olathe, said Friday the company is convinced the store will be successful, just as other Aldi stores are at 63rd Street and Troost Avenue and near Eighth Street and the Paseo.

Aldi stores are smaller than many suburban groceries — 17,000 square feet versus 50,000 square feet or more. But Bersted said this new store will be as nice as any Aldi prototype in the suburbs and will have the same prices and selection as those in the suburbs.

Bersted acknowledged the store needed tax incentives to locate at 39th and Prospect but said that was because of the properties that had to be acquired for the site and because of some environmental contamination. He said the incentives were not a windfall and merely brought the project cost in line with what the company spends to build elsewhere.

The store will employ about 15 people, most hired from the neighborhood, he said. Local residents said they particularly like that it’s on the busy Prospect Avenue bus line and is also surrounded by walkable streets.

Kansas City public health analysts and food policy experts have been researching the dearth of grocery stores in Ivanhoe and other urban-core neighborhoods and are excited about the new store.

“It’s going to be great for neighborhood residents to have access to the store,” said Kirby Burkholder, co-chair of the Kansas City Food Policy Coalition’s Grocery Access Task Force, which just released recommendations on stimulating supermarket development in bistate Kansas City.

He said Ivanhoe was a neighborhood lacking in adequate groceries, especially considering its density and high number of senior citizens. And he predicted the store will succeed.

“There will be a deep sense of a community connection,” Burkholder said.

This is not the only urban-core grocery store on the horizon, Reed said.

He said Truman Medical Center continues to raise money and is seeking to identify a grocer for a healthy foods-oriented, 30,000-square-foot market at 27th Street and Troost Avenue. Truman officials say they hope to break ground within 18 months.

Reed said the city also is pursuing funding and a grocer for a large, high-quality supermarket in the Linwood Shopping Center, at Linwood Street and Prospect Avenue, although he could not provide more details.

In addition, he said, a nonprofit group, Asian Americans for Equality, broke ground in December for what’s being called a “food hub” in the old U.S. Quartermaster Depot at Hardesty and Independence avenues. It would be a distribution center for healthy, locally grown food and good nutrition for low-income residents in the old Northeast.

To reach Lynn Horsley, call 816-226-2058 or send email to lhorsley@kcstar.com.

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