No More Supermarkets?: Major Grocers Flee Detroit

Many would assume that a city with nearly a million residents has no problem attracting major grocery store chains. But Detroit just watched its last mainstream grocer, Farmer Jack, close its doors for good. Local radio host Fatima Bogan explains the happenings and the reaction in the community.

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CHERYL CORLEY, host:

It would seem to be a given. Grocery stores would love to locate to a city that has nearly a million residents. But for Detroit, it has been an epidemic of grocery store closings, and now the city has become what some would call a food desert.

In just a few moments, we'll talk with a Detroit-based developer and a researcher about the Motor City's barren supermarket landscape. But first we turn to a Detroit resident who has had to find ways to juggle her food shopping options. Fatima Bogan Campbell is a native of the city. She hosts a Christian radio show on AM radio, and she joins us from member station WDET.

Well, earlier this month, Detroit lost its last national grocery store when Farmer Jack grocers shut down. And the Kroger Company bought Farmer Jack stores located in the greater Detroit area but bypassed the city. So, I just wanted to know how you've been coping.

Ms. FATIMA BOGAN CAMPBELL: Well, it's difficult. You know, I'm one of those that I do have transportation. I have two vehicles, so I can travel to purchase food and vegetables and meats and what have you, but there are those that can't.

CORLEY: Mm-hmm. So there are suburban grocery stores that are nearby that you can go to?

Ms. CAMPBELL: Well, the Kroger's are out in the suburbs, and there's also those warehouse clubs that I frequent when I want to buy those things that are bulk. Then there are those vegetable markets that I go to that are out in the suburbs. So, ironically, everything is in the 'burbs.

CORLEY: Mm-hmm. You mentioned that you have a couple of vehicles. I was wondering, are neighbors of yours, perhaps, finding it difficult to shop or just other folks in the city? I understand a sizeable number of people in Detroit don't have cars.

Ms. CAMPBELL: As a matter of fact, I have neighbors next door that are older, they're senior citizens. And it's difficult. Sometimes, when I go to a market, I may pick up a few items and give those things to them. Actually, my mother-in-law, I go and shop and pick up items for her as well. But that's the only way that some of the people - the senior citizens and some of the people who don't have transportation - they have to rely on others to assist them, and that's not good. You know, I hate to see that happen.

CORLEY: Mm-hmm. I understand you have a son that's had some difficulty shopping in the city as well.

Ms. CAMPBELL: Absolutely. I have a son who - he's an adult. He's in his 30s, and he's very independent. And he does not have a car. He will catch a bus, go to a store, and he catches what we call a jitney. And some listeners may not know what a jitney is, but that's someone who sits outside of a grocery store in a car and will take a person home after they've made their purchase for a nominal fee.

But the store that he shops is still not a chain store. It's one of the independent groceries, and oftentimes he's paying more money for the items than he should because of the fact that there aren't any chains within the city. It's difficult. Your money - especially if you don't make as much, your money does not go as far as you would need it to be.

CORLEY: Fatima Bogan Campbell lives in Detroit, and she spoke with us from member station WDET. Thank you so much.

Ms. CAMPBELL: Thank you.

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