Birmingham mayor wants to limit dollar stores and address ‘food deserts’
“We can’t have certain organizations that prey on poor people in our city.”
BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - "It’s an inconvenience.” That’s how Amie Evans described the lack of grocery stores in her Druid Hills neighborhood. “We used to have a Food Fair on Carraway Boulevard, used to be 26th Street. It’s been closed since the 90′s. So right now, we don’t have one.”
The closest grocery store is the Piggly Wiggly in North Birmingham. She lives in what could be described as a “food desert.” The USDA describes it as low income areas with limited access to a grocery store.
Evans is not alone. Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin said about 70 percent of the city’s population also lives in a food desert. When we discussed the number of dollar stores surrounding Evans’ community, it was a bit easier for her to determine those locations. "You’ll see a Dollar General and a family Dollar right across from each other,” she said.
In all three dollar stores, and one grocery store surround her community.
Woodfin wants to change that. At the city council meeting on Tuesday, Woodfin discussed a Healthy Food Ordinance that would limit the number of dollar store developments in the city. Woodfin said these stores target and cause food deserts.
“They divert customers revenue away from grocery stores and healthy foods. Many grocery stores are forced to close. Between 2005 and 2015, Jefferson County lost more than five grocery stores,” Woodfin explained.
Under the ordinance, all new dollar stores must be a mile away from any existing stores. It will also loosen restrictions on grocery stores and allow community gardens to sell produce on site. Public markets would also have longer seasons.
“We can’t have certain organizations that prey on poor people in our city,” Woodfin said. “At a certain point either through existing law or laws and ordinances that we can create we have to protect our people.”
“We’ve heard from far too many people about the fact that the dollar stores that they have in their neighborhood or nearby don’t supply them with the healthy foods they need,” said Dr. Josh Carpenter, Director of Economic Innovation for Birmingham.
Carpenter is helping create the framework for this ordinance. “This creates us an opportunity to restrict the growth of those stores and then recruit grocery stores,” he continued.
It’s all welcome news for people like Evans who have been without a grocery in her neighborhood for decades. “I think this would be good,” said Evans. “We will have fresh vegetables and good meats.”
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