On May 2 Everybody’s Supermarket was destroyed in a fire that consumed the entire shopping center near Greenfield Lake. A restaurant, barbershop and church were lost to the blaze. For the surrounding neighborhood, it was a devastating loss. For Cedric Harrison, founder of Support The Port, the loss hit his heart.
“As a kid, when I lived in Garden Lake [nearby], before my parents separated, I used to catch the bus in front of Everybody’s to go to school,” he remembers.
“Me and my peers would go to the store and buy snacks for school while we waited on the bus. Some days we would go to the restaurant and purchase breakfast sandwiches to eat on the bus. On weekends I remember walking there to get a few items Mom would need to fix breakfast. It made me feel grown.”
Beyond nostalgia, he recognizes the real impact the loss of Everybody’s has on the neighborhood.
“Last-minute meals are a thing of the past if you don’t have transportation to take you to the next nearest store for foods,” he tells. “Or maybe you wanted to purchase something to eat instead of cooking. Well, if you don’t have transportation, you can’t just walk across the street to the restaurant anymore.”
For many area residents who do not own cars, or are older and living on fixed incomes, the loss of the supermarket directly impacts their ability to get food. Everybody’s was an oasis in a “food desert”—a term that is getting tossed around more and more often nowadays.
Food deserts refer to areas without a grocery store nearby to purchase fresh food items. According to population density maps on New Hanover County’s website for 2000 and 2010, Greenfield Street (particularly between 8th and 13th streets) remained among the most densely populated at roughly 3,500 to 4,500 people (of which 2,501 – 3,000 were female according to another 2010 map). Everybody’s was located right in the middle.
As more and more grocery stores move to a big-box model that emphasizes building in suburban areas over reusing and revitalizing urban areas, more and more neighborhoods are finding themselves with access to only a corner convenience store. Such stores have high mark-ups and limited selections, most of which do not include fresh foods but prepackaged processed offerings with little nutritional value.
Case in point: Two new, big, beautiful grocery stores have opened in Wilmington in the last two years to great fanfare. According to the aforementioned population maps from 2000 and 2010, while both areas (Pine Valley and Ogden, respectively) have increased in population density as well, both are located in places already saturated with grocery-shopping options.
There are a lot of issues surrounding food deserts and the role private enterprise plays as either an instigator or solution. Over the next six months, encore is going to look at food deserts across our city and some of the issues surrounding them, along with efforts to address its causes locally.
The immediate needs of the Greenfield neighborhood, brought sharply into focus with the loss of Everbody’s, is a good place to start. Harrison’s concern for the residents is paramount. It is a long-term problem, but what can be done immediately, in the short term, to help the people of Greenfield Street?
Last month Harrison paired up with Nourish NC, an organization dedicated to feeding hungry children, to host a one-time pop-up market at the Old Century Mills building at 8th and Greenfield streets.
“While this may not be our mission, Greenfield Street is our neighborhood and Nourish NC feels obligated to act,” notes Steve McCrossan, executive director of Nourish NC.
Nourish, located at 601 Greenfield St., donated food for the market, which was hosted exclusively for the residents of the area. In addition, breakfast was served and kids activities organized to give the parents a chance to shop. As Harrison notes, it wasn’t just the loss of the supermarket but also the community gathering place. “If Greenfield Street was a college, Everybody’s shopping center was like the student center of the campus,” he explains—“a one-stop shop for resources.”
Whether they’ll continue to host them remains unclear. It likely will happen if a different organization or even a business steps in. The surrounding neighborhood has a need and a market for goods and services.
“As I mentioned this is not what Nourish NC is mission bound and created to do,” McCrossan adds. “We are hoping someone will run with the idea.”
Businesses seek to identify a market for their products or services and fill that niche. Given the longevity of Everybody’s prior to the fire and the need for a grocer in the area, surely someone of an entrepreneurial mindset could open a supermarket, right? And that doesn’t include the local Family Dollar. Small farmers’ market pop-ups can help get people through the immediate crisis, but long-term we need a better solution.
“The main questions behind any short-term idea have been who will own it—literally and figuratively—and will it be sustainable?” McCrossan says. “It’s also important to remember Greenfield Street residents lost more than just a grocery store; they lost a place of worship, a breakfast spot, and several businesses. They lost part of their community.”
That’s one of the issues at the heart of the food-desert discussion: Is the solution found in nonprofit work or in the for-profit sector? Or a hybrid of both?
Do you live in a food desert? Do you have a solution to propose? How do we attract businesses to open smaller, more boutique grocery stores in the interior of our city? We want to hear reader suggestions; feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a message via Facebook. The problem can be fixed, though, clearly, we are failing at it. And the reality is: We have more food deserts, not fewer. So what specific steps do we need to take to address manageable changes in our neighborhoods?
It is complicated and tends to get discussed in big terms. But here’s the thing: We aren’t talking about theory. We are talking about real people—our neighbors—and their access to healthy food. We are talking about whether or not old people eat or children go to bed hungry. Living in a food desert, for many people, comes with transportation restrictions and financial limitations. So, while we are talking about theoretical solutions, I want to thank the people who are addressing the immediate problem. All the theory in the world doesn’t matter when hunger strikes.
Nourish NC, while not intended to address food deserts, addresses the needs of hungry children. To donate, volunteer or hold a food drive in your neighborhood, contact Steve McCrossan, email@example.com.
Cedric Harrison continues to work on this issue; he, too, always needs volunteers, donations and help with Support the Port. Email him at Cedric@SupportThePort.com.