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Healthy Food Access Limited In Some Franklin County Neighborhoods Due To Store Hours

Debbie Holmes

Access to grocery stores and fresh produce remains a problem for some residents of Franklin County. People who live in some low-income neighborhoods don’t have a big grocery store, and a new study says even if there is one, it may be closed when they want to shop.

“How are you doing today?  I’m doing fine.  Is this is it for you today?”

Little’s IGA grocery store on South Parsons Avenue isn’t big, but it carries a wide range of healthy foods. Fresh fruits and vegetables are on display near the front of the store.  Apples, oranges, bananas, potatoes, onions, greens and corn on the cob.

Shopper Flora Hemsley buys produce and other items on her grocery list every week at the IGA on the south side, even though she lives in Old Towne East.

“What are the specials that you like to come for then.  Oh the vegetables and the fruit and the meat.  The meat department, it’s a good deal on meat here," said Hemsley.

The store opens at 8 in the morning and closes at 8:30 at night.  It’s closed on Sundays.

That’s not convenient for many shoppers according to a study co-authored by Ohio State geographer Jill Clark.  She looked at locations and hours of 118 stores in Franklin County. She found that nearly a quarter of the area’s 1.2 million residents had low food access to supermarkets.

“In the end, for Franklin County, physical access to a retailer isn’t as much of a problem for low-income and minority neighborhoods as it is accessing stores when they’re open.  If you’re working a job that doesn’t allow you to get to the stores during those hours or transportation options aren’t available during those hours, it’s just another barrier getting in your way," said Clark.

IGA Store Manager Mike Little says he does not plan to change store hours for now.

“After it gets dark a lot of people don’t come out, especially in this neighborhood, it’s just fact.  In the winter, we even close our hours up to 8 o’clock because there’s just no business after that. We’re just not going to be open late at night.  Plus it’s either myself or my brothers here and we have to sleep sometime," said Little.

On Columbus’ north side, in the south Linden area, full service grocery stores don’t exist so healthy eaters have to shop outside of their neighborhood. 63 year old Cora McLendon relies on friends to drive her to the grocery store.

“It was kind of convenient when that market was open at Hudson and Joyce, but the prices were so high in that store ‘til you still wanted to go to another area to shop," McLendon said.

“Hi, how are you?  Come on up please.”

Close to a mile away from Cora McLendon’s home Stafford Market on Parkwood Avenue stays open 7 days a week from 7a.m. to 1a.m.  The selection of fresh produce is not as abundant though as in a large grocery store. Owner Sam Rabady says he can’t expand right now.

“I’ve been studying this for the past 7 years, and what I carry is exactly what we need day by day.  We don’t have any extras, we don’t have anything less so we don’t throw away anything because we’re just getting just as much as we need," said Rabady.

While it doesn’t offer a large variety of fresh produce, Stafford Market is one of 17 stores that are part of a city-wide effort by United Way of Central Ohio to help more low-income residents eat healthier.  Cheryl Graffagnino with Columbus Public Health’s Healthy Food Access Program says community leaders need to be creative in finding solutions to food access and extending store hours will be looked at more closely.  But ultimately it will be up to store owners.

“The likelihood that we’re just going to get a for-profit grocery store to build a brand new store in a neighborhood that isn’t served right now that’s a challenge, that’s hard to accomplish.  And so, what are the resources we have that we can bring to that," said Graffagnino.

She says a food action plan is being developed by Columbus and Franklin County leaders and will be released in July.

Graffagnino says more farmer’s markets may be a solution to multiple problems.

“We’re also really trying to look at how can the food system help build the economic viability of our communities.  How can producing food, processing food, delivering food, how can those things generate jobs and economic growth in our neighborhoods," said Graffagnino.

Debbie Holmes began her career in broadcasting in Columbus after graduating from The Ohio State University. She left the Buckeye state to pursue a career in television news and worked as a reporter and anchor in Moline, Illinois and Memphis, Tennessee.