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The East End is not a ‘food desert’

There was a time when the East End of Charleston had at least two small grocery stores, a Kroger and a Fas Check, right next to each other.

Fas Check closed its Smith Street store in the late 1990s. Kroger closed its Smith Street store in 2001, saying it had been unprofitable for four years.

Since then, both retailers and customers in the area have adjusted.

As the Daily Mail's Jared Hunt reported, some customers go to the Spring Street or Kanawha City Foodlands, some go to the West Side or Kanawha City Kroger stores, and staples are readily available at a host of smaller retailers along Washington Street. Produce is close by at the Capitol Market.

Yet some in the area continue to be obsessed with the idea of attracting a grocery store. They have

focused their attention on a former Burger King location on a Washington Street parcel that is too small to accommodate anything much bigger than a fruit stand.

Councilman Cubert Smith complains that the East End is "a food desert."

The Charleston Urban Renewal Authority has even discussed reducing the price of the Burger King parcel to attract a grocer - in effect providing a subsidy of one business to the detriment of others.

This is silliness.

City and urban renewal officials shouldn't be trying to decide what the East End needs.

First, Kroger and Fas Check operated grocery stores in the East End and decided to stop. There's a message there somewhere.

Second, many customers have already found what they want, and many retailers in the area have already adjusted what they offer.

Third, retailers are excellent at figuring out what people in an area need or want - and whether they can make a profit by providing it. Public bodies don't have to offer enticements to retailers; they volunteer to build when they sense an opportunity to make money.

Fourth, it's simply wrong for public bodies to subsidize one retailer, thereby harming others.

Enough with the misbegotten grocery store obsession.

The East End is not a food desert - not by a long shot. It's time to stop pretending that it is.


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