The north Tulsa food desert

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Those who've accused Councilor Roscoe Turner and north Tulsa residents of unjustifiable complaining about the closing of Albertson's at Pine and Peoria need to listen to the podcast of Saturday's Darryl Baskin show. The guest at the beginning of the show was Steve Whitaker of John 3:16 mission, and the topic was "food deserts."

Not desserts. Deserts.

There's a big one in Tulsa. Whitaker said a food desert is defined as an area where it's more than three miles to the nearest full-service grocery. Tulsa has a six-mile wide band without supermarkets that goes all the way across the city.

There are no full-service grocery stores in the City of Tulsa north of Admiral Place. There's a Piggly Wiggly on Admiral east of Harvard, a Warehouse Market at 3rd & Lewis, and another Warehouse Market at 66th & Peoria in Turley. Beyond that you have to go to Owasso to shop.

A food desert makes life harder for those already on the margins of poverty. There are no supermarkets within walking distance. There might be a convenience store, but prices are higher, and the store isn't likely to carry produce or much in the way of healthy food. Driving is getting more expensive as fuel costs rise. Public transit is rarely available when people are off work and can go shopping.

Whitaker and Baskin wondered why, since everyone has to buy food, no one has filled the vacuum left by Albertson's departure.

I read an explanation recently -- can't remember where -- that made a lot of sense. Even though everyone has to buy food, lower income people tend to buy basics and items on sale. In other words, they buy items with low markups. In supermarkets in middle class and upper income areas, shoppers buy more expensive, high-markup items which subsidize the basics. If everyone that shops at a particular grocery buys only the low-markup items, the grocery won't be able to afford to stay in business.

UPDATE 2007/11/30: I took a little drive up Peoria and back down Lewis to check on grocery locations. There are no supermarkets on N. Peoria until you are beyond Tulsa city limits and in unincorporated Turley, which has a Warehouse Market. There is a greengrocers called "Week's" at Apache and Lewis, but I don't know if it's open out of season. At Pine and Lewis, the old Safeway (the newer old Safeway on the northwest corner) is split between a RentQuik and a Save-A-Lot. Although the Save-A-Lot doesn't have a sign out front, banners in the store visible through the windows showed the name. There's a big Supermercado on Lewis just north of I-244. I didn't stop to investigate, so I don't know what hours these stores keep or how their prices and selection compare to stores in my neighborhood.

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Roy said:

Consider also some ironic results that might accompany the explanation you read.

Some person observe that there is a 6 mile swath with no stores. That person concludes a serious market exists. That person figures to meet the needs of lots of people seeking the service a more local market would provide. Costs will be met by increasing the price of even the basics just slightly, or possibly by offering fewer of the higher mark up items and thus lowering inventory costs. The person figures that people will freely choose to shop at the store since they can either break even by not having to pay transportation costs or be able to shop at all.

Then reality dawns. What if somebody else makes charges of explotation, of racism? Long term costs for legal defense might result. People mistakenly believing that charge might conclude they have justification for stealing from the store, or damaging it or its goods.

The only rational choice follows. Too bad, for the person wanted to build something in their own neighborhood....

Maybe its a job for the church....

Jeff Shaw Author Profile Page said:

And if you think it's hard enough on poor people getting groceries when they have a car:

You'd be surprised at how many people I see get on the north bound Route 105 (Peoria) bus at the Wal-Mart at 81st and Riverside with bags of groceries. I know a good number of these people are riding from North Tulsa because its a straight route - no transfers. Just assuming they are going to Apache and Peoria, that's an hour - one way.

On another note, supermarkets are generally all low mark-up, probably between 5-20%. Its so competitive.

The only items in a general merchandise store that have higher markups are clothing, sporting goods, and things made in China. Wal-Mart stays in business by doing high volume to make up for their low mark-up. Groceries that are not high end, such as Albertson's or Wild Oats, rely almost purely on volume to overcome the low margins. They have to turn a lot of inventory to make money. Also, in a low margin environment, shoplifting and inventory shrinkage in general play a big role in a store's bottom line.

I would guess Wal-Mart's store mark-up hovers around 20-22% for the entire store, maybe less. It was around 25-30% when I was a manager 15 years ago - before they were in the grocery business. A typical Wal-Mart in the 80's did $15-20 million a year and had a 5-8% net profit. That was an 80,000 square foot store.

Jeff Shaw Author Profile Page said:

I made a mistake. I said:
"Groceries that are not high end, such as Albertson's or Wild Oats..."

I should have said "Groceries that are not high end, unlike Albertson's or Wild Oats..."

Big Mook said:

There are two other grocery stores you did not mention. One is just north of I-244 on Lewis, and one is at Pine and Lewis. Did you not mention them because you must bag your own groceries or something?

I have talked to some former Albertson's employees who told me there was a huge--and they really emphasized huge--- shoplifting problem at that Albertson's. If that was the case, I can't imagine a grocer wanting to do business there.

I'm not sure why Steve Whitaker didn't mention those stores. Perhaps they only carry a limited selection. I haven't personally driven the north side to inventory supermarkets, but I thought the big grocery at I-244 and Lewis had closed.

Paul Tay said:

I'd go for a N-Tulsa Farmer's Market.

The A team said:

Good post. I think this type of situation is the direct result of a pattern of neglect by the city of Tulsa in certain(mostly lower, working, and increasingly, middle class) areas. Aren't there similar areas of east and west Tulsa with the same food desert problems? I'm sick and tired of those who always have to make it all about race(on both sides of the debate).

A team, east Tulsa is pretty well supplied for supermarkets, at least in the settled areas. There's a Warehouse Market at 31st and 129th, a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market at 31st and Garnett, a Wal-Mart Supercenter at Admiral and Memorial, a Reasor's at 41st and Garnett plus a number of fairly large ethnic specialty markets around 21st and Garnett. There are a lot of ex-supermarkets that have been converted to other uses.

I think there are a couple of supermarkets on the west side.

W. said:

I live on the west side. There are two honest grocery stores -- a Warehouse Market on 51st Street and Union, and an S&S Market at 61st and 33rd West Avenue.

There's also a Braum's at 51st and 33rd which does well in a pinch. Lots of meat and dairy, some produce and a number of basics.

There was a grocery at Crystal City Shopping Center a few years ago. But it moved to Avery Drive a few miles northwest, and nothing has taken its place.

On the north side, there's a Sav-A-Lot at 1500 N. Lewis. I don't know why this grocery keeps getting overlooked by Roscoe, et al.

Albertson's was doomed because it was, in my opinion, a higher-end grocery store. It was in a spot where many of its customers couldn't afford it. A good, budget-based grocery like Shop 'n Save would do well there.

nxnconstruction Author Profile Page said:

Lets see All companies are in business to make money. Doesn't matter about race. The bottem line is the point and if they can make money they would be there so that is it.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on November 20, 2007 7:22 PM.

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