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Reply #5: article from detroit news says local grocers snubbed by whole foods [View All]

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ellenrr Donating Member (619 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-30-11 08:53 AM
Response to Reply #4
5. article from detroit news says local grocers snubbed by whole foods
If Detroit is a food desert, then University Foods must be a mirage.

The prevailing story line is that because no national supermarket chain has a store in the city, Detroiters lack access to quality food, including fresh meat, fruits and vegetables. That claim is used as justification for spending millions of state, city and county dollars to lure Whole Foods to Midtown and Meijer to the State Fairgrounds neighborhood.

But the shelves of University Foods are sagging with fresh fruit, vegetables and organic products. The meat section offers top quality cuts. The store, which has operated near the Wayne State campus for more than 30 years, is clean and bright, with wide aisles and a deep assortment of products.

And it's less than a mile from where the city hopes Whole Foods will locate.

"I don't mind the competition, but why should my tax dollars be used to subsidize a competitor?" asks Norman Yaldoo, who owns the store with his father, Edward.

Good question. Whole Foods would bring some trendy cachet to Midtown. But there are three other full-service supermarkets, including the Yaldoos' store, that risk losing customers to the subsidized store.

And even though Whole Foods is a multibillion corporation, attracting its store to Detroit will require roughly $5 million in government sweeteners, according to state documents FOIA'd by the Chaldean News.

The subsidies and tax breaks would allow Whole Foods to lease its Detroit store for $6 a square foot half to two-thirds less than other supermarket owners typically pay in the city.

And there are other supermarkets in the city. Martin Manna of the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce says there are 84 supermarkets in Detroit, mostly Chaldean-owned, and like the Yaldoos' store, most offer a full range of groceries, including fresh fruit and vegetables.

If Detroit truly were a food desert, there might be a public health rationale for subsidizing Whole Foods and Meijer. But with local competitors already in place, the special treatment for the national chains raises a fairness issue.

It also ignores history. Detroit has a poor record of using national grocery chains as a redevelopment tool.

In the 1990s, the city spent a great deal of money to attract a Super Kmart and a Kroger. Both failed, and both buildings are now occupied by Mike's Fresh Food stores, which survive without any taxpayer help.

Yaldoo says the reason the national chains fizzle out, despite their tax breaks, is that the local operators better understand the market and its customers, and most importantly, know how to control shrinkage goods that go out the door with shoplifters and dishonest employees.

The medium size of the Chaldean markets generally 30,000 square feet also seem to work better in Detroit.

Gov. Rick Snyder has talked about economic gardening helping the businesses already in place grow bigger and create more jobs.

He's also foresworn tax breaks and subsidies to lure businesses to the state.

But that strategy is out the window in this case, as Yaldoo observes:

"If they want to subsidize someone to build more supermarkets, why not subsidize those of us who've been running stores here for decades and know how to serve the market?"

Another good question.

From The Detroit News:
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