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Residents petition for affordable grocery store in former Borders space

January 26, 2014

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A mail carrier delivers packages to the Lawrence Borders bookstore Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011, the day Borders announced that the Lawrence store would be one of several stores nationally to close.

A mail carrier delivers packages to the Lawrence Borders bookstore Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011, the day Borders announced that the Lawrence store would be one of several stores nationally to close.

A resident-led effort has emerged to attract an affordable, full-service grocery store to the former Borders building downtown.

The site, 700 New Hampshire St., lies at the center of a federally designated food desert, four adjacent northeast Lawrence census tracts with a combination of low-income residents and low access to fresh food.

“We see this as a social justice issue,” said David Crawford, one of a handful of Lawrence residents in the core group behind the Lawrence for Downtown Grocery petition and Facebook page. “We see it as a food access issue.”

At the same time it’s a business issue, contingent on securing the building, getting a grocery store operator to move in and, ultimately, succeed.

Crawford said that while a store such as Trader Joe’s may sound attractive, his group believes a discount store such as Aldi or Save-A-Lot would be better.

“People in and around downtown need an affordable store for it to be successful,” he said. “The realistic fact is that the 11,000 population here that are going to use this store are not in the upper-middle-class income range.”

Crawford said he and co-organizers think the term “food desert” has negative connotations and prefer to call the surrounding neighborhoods “underserved.” Their petition, launched a week ago, has several hundred signatures. They are promoting the effort online at facebook.com/groups/DTGrocery.

Crawford said he and other organizers were willing to invest money in a grocery store but not open or run it themselves, as none has a background in the grocery business. The group’s strategy is to organize community involvement and support for such a store, then convince the city commission to actively pursue a grocery store operator to move in.

“The city commission has the best track record of anyone here in Lawrence of bringing in new business,” Crawford said.

The city has yet to receive or consider the Lawrence for Downtown Grocery petition. Crawford said he hopes to present it to city commissioners within the next couple of months, with as many comments from residents and letters of support from neighborhood organizations the group can get.

Developers have talked about bringing grocery stores to other downtown or East Lawrence locations, but no plans have materialized to date.

In the Journal-World’s recent series about Lawrence food deserts, Warehouse Arts District developer Tony Krsnich said he’d support a grocery there but that it would take an operator with a viable business plan coming forward. Developer Doug Compton, who has proposed or is currently constructing multiple mixed-use projects downtown, also has floated the idea of a grocery store in one of them.

The Lawrence Public Library is expected to vacate the Borders building later this year.

Crawford said it's a unique opportunity for the site. “If another entity takes the site we’ll have lost a once-in-a-blue-moon chance.”

Comments

Arnie Bunkers 2 months, 2 weeks ago

If you are landed gentry, you can afford to reach the store 8 miles away. Better yet, start a sustainable garden. Perhaps share with the ones less fortunate

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Keith Richards 2 months, 2 weeks ago

I live out in the country and the closest grocery store is 8 miles away. Social injustice I tell you!!! I live in a food desert. I demand the city, county or state force someone to open a grocery store close enough I can walk to. While your at it, send the bus route out here too!

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Scott Morgan 2 months, 2 weeks ago

As an outsider living here for a decade or so, always wondered why a city the size of Lawrence is squeezed by the myth of a profitable toll highway. At least this is why I've been told there are no bridges providing easy access North and South.

This city should have at least 4-6 more good sized bridges making all access problems from food to emergency response moot.

Good gravy, the amount of business (sales tax) flowing by Lawrence everyday on I-70 should make us all cringe.

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Julius Nolan 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Don't see that it's the city's place to bribe a particular business to locate in a certain place. Next, this group will ask and expect the city to fund a guaranteed profit when customer base doesn't support it.

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Brett McCabe 2 months, 2 weeks ago

This is NOT a social justice issue. I'm as progressive as they come but please don't abuse terms such as social justice when it comes to getting a grocery store located a few blocks closer to your neighborhood. Show some discretion for a change. East Lawrence continues to make me scratch my head by over-amping the wrong issues almost all of the time.

A grocery store in the Borders location might be a good idea and might be a good use of the space. What you might want to do is to quit signing petitions, start doing some market research, consider some potential partners, maybe a KickStarter program and put together a real concept. Maybe a Farmer's Market on steroids or a collection of local producers, vendors, retailers, etc. who, when combined, could provide a good solution for the area? But first, calm down the rhetoric and save it for something that is actually important.

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Rick Johnson 2 months, 2 weeks ago

This makes no sense. There is a grocery store ten blocks to the south, it is called Dillon's! Guess none of these people have lived in a big city before!

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Bart Johnson 2 months, 2 weeks ago

If people think it is such a good idea, then they should put forward their own money to do it. Quit asking the guns of the state to force your fellow citizens to subsidize you.

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Beator 2 months, 2 weeks ago

What types of grants could help finance this healthy concept? if any?....???

Instead of spending millions on a library for social lounges and books you can't eat, Millions could have been spent on Borders making a nice government grocery store. A government grocery store with Government buses to ferry the hungry. Too bad the food desert meme was not floated sooner.

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Steve Jacob 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Can't see it being an "affordable" grocery store if it's paying downtown rent prices. There is a reason the old Borders sat empty until the library came in.

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Richard Heckler 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Yes North Lawrence residents could use a store. The whole world knows this.

NW Lawrence has too many stores nearby each other which is economic displacement.

A grocery store at the borders location could also serve North Lawrence. It would be a tad bit closer. East and North Lawrence is also home to a fair number of people interested in local,clean and healthy foods. This grocery store would need their business. There is also a wide range of income levels in East and North Lawrence.

Depending on financing arrangements could a 7 day "Farmers Market" operate inside and outside? Year round ? Hmmmmmmmmmmm. What types of grants could help finance this healthy concept? if any?

Absolutely good luck with this endeavor.

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Ron Holzwarth 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Aldi will move in only if the decision to do so is made in Germany. That might be a tough sell. Of course, other grocery chains will be different, and it is not at all impossible that a grocery store will move into the vacant space.

There are some that consider north Lawrence to be a good location because there is no grocery store there at all anymore, and there is certainly vacant space available. But it's worth noting that there was a grocery store in north Lawrence, which failed and closed back in the 1970s, as well as a grocery store just across the street to the north of the Douglas County Courthouse that also failed in the 1970s.

A grocery store is a business, and whether it succeeds or fails depends upon its business plan and customer base. If the customers need it, shop there, and it is well managed, success is just about guaranteed. But, it will not succeed if the potential customers don't do most of their shopping there, and only purchase small sundry items.

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