Grocery store closure hinders food access

By Matt Phillips
NCCU Staff Writer
the Durham VOICE


Residents of Wellons Village are without easy pedestrian access to a grocery store after Lowes Foods at 1001 North Miami Blvd. shuttered its doors this past September. The store, formerly a key retail asset in The Village Shopping Center, closed after providing service to the neighborhood for 24 years.

Lowes Foods at 1001 North Miami Blvd. closed this past September. The next closest grocery store, Food Lion on Holloway Street, is more difficult for pedestrians to access.

Debbie Williams, assistant to the president for Lowes Foods, said the company couldn’t offer all their products in such a small retail space and didn’t want to commit to a long-term lease.

The space, managed by Raleigh-based Rivercrest Realty, is listed as 28,500 square feet on the company’s Web site. A Lowes Foods located at Middle Creek Commons Shopping Center in Raleigh does business from a 49,032 square foot retail space.

“We enjoyed serving that community for 24 years,” said Williams. “We always hate to leave a market – but we couldn’t commit to a long term lease.”

Bao Hang, whose family has owned and operated Top’s China restaurant in The Village Shopping Center for nearly 20 years, said the rent is too high for the location. He said the rent rises about 5 percent per year. Hang said the loss of Lowes Foods is bad for the shopping center and his restaurant, but business is too slow for Top’s China to move.

Nilsa Garcia manages Naples Terrace, a nearby apartment complex. She said many of the Naples Terrace tenants shopped at Lowes Foods.

“They need a business back up there, a supermarket,” said Garcia. “Any kind of grocery store would be good.”

Garcia said many of her tenants don’t own vehicles, so the ability to walk to a grocery store was a major advantage. Now, Garcia said, Naples Terrace residents must ride the bus to shop at Food Lion on Holloway Street or Save-A-Lot on Liberty Street.

Cornisha Jenkins has lived at Naples Terrace for two years. Jenkins said before Lowes Foods closed she walked to buy her groceries, but now she has to ride either one or two buses, depending on whether she wants to shop at Food Lion or Save-A-Lot.

“45 minutes just to go on the bus,” said Jenkins. “I have to get a ride, and then you have to pay people.”

Both Garcia and Jenkins said people in the neighborhood were surprised the store closed. Garcia said she went to purchase food one day and the doors were locked.

Food Lion at 2400 Holloway Drive, just off Holloway Street, is less than two miles from Naples Terrace and neighboring Pinecrest Apartments, but there are no sidewalks on Hardee Street, which runs alongside both complexes and eventually meets Holloway Street.

Nor is there a continuous sidewalk from The Village Shopping Center along Holloway Street to the Food Lion location. In both cases, pedestrians are forced to walk along busy Holloway Street without the safety of a sidewalk.

There are limited options for essential food items in the area. The Maxway store in The Village Shopping Center sells bread and milk. Across North Miami Blvd. at Moroleon Supermarket limited vegetables, fruit and meat are available.

Cambridge Village, a subsidized housing complex behind The Village Shopping Center was also served by Lowes Foods.

An employee who has worked at the Cambridge Village leasing office for nine years, but who did not want to be named, said he noticed problems at the store, including poor customer service and ambivalent management. He said many Cambridge Village residents are low income residents and don’t have vehicles, so Lowes Foods was their main option.

“If you’re dealing with under privileged people that doesn’t mean your customer service shouldn’t be good,” said the Cambridge Village employee.

He also said Cambridge Village residents brought their groceries home in the Lowes Foods shopping carts. The leasing office offered to collect and organize the carts for Lowes employees to pick up, but store management said there were no resources available to collect the carts.