Social media was all the buzz yesterday with the announcement — long discussed but now confirmed – of the Save A Lot grocery at 13th and Grove. As announced in a letter from District 1 Councilmember Brandon Johnson, the store will close July 10.
The discount grocery had been a life-line for many residents of the nearby central northeast Wichita community, who lacked transportation to more distant full-service grocery stores. These individuals are reduced to purchasing their food at convenience stores, dollar stores, and corner stores which often lack healthy less process food and fresh fruits and vegetables.
In urban communities, an area is considered a food desert if it has a high level of low income residents and there is not a full-service grocery store within a one-mile radius. Now, the closet grocery store to the community is at Douglas and Hillside.
The growth of food deserts is not uncommon, in urban areas across the country there has been a struggle to grocery store door’s open since the late 1990s. The Save-A-Lot was developed as a project of the POWER Community Development Corporation and opened in 2006 with the support of the City of Wichita and federal Community Development Block Grants.
The process of getting an operator as well as funding for the store was long and onerous. James Arbertha, POWER CDC president, worked for nearly 14 years to make the project a reality. He insisted that the store needed to be operated by and associated with an existing grocery chain. Several other independent grocers had previously opened in the community with very little success.
Under the development agreement, POWER CDC built the store and leased it to family-based Rhodes Grocers, a Save A Lot existing operator, with locations in rural Knox and Rochester Kansas. The Rhode’s eventually opened a second Save-A Lot location in Plainview, another underserved Wichita community.
The Rhodes eventually pulled out of both of the locations and the stores became corporate owned. POWER CDC sold the buildings in 2017 to a commercial real estate company, who has since resold the building.
Today the City of Wichita and Sedgwick County reviewed the Food System Master Plan, a joint project they’ve been working on for several years, to address the problem of local food deserts. The long-term plan, meant to be implemented over 10 years, offered no immediate solutions for the central northeast community. Johnson, asked for workable solutions now, rather than later.
While many recommendations implemented in other cities were discussed no immediate solutions were approved.
We’ll share some of the workable solutions from other cities in an upcoming story.