Grocers hard to find in San Francisco’s poorer areas 

Last month, Trader Joe’s inked a deal to open a store in the Castro district. Whole Foods is eyeing a new location on Dolores Street, and a bigger and better Safeway may come to the Richmond district.

The City has been successful in reversing a two-year trend of grocery stores closing. Since 2007, eight new locations have opened up and 10 more are being planned throughout The City, according to the Office of Economic and Workforce Development.

However, full-service grocery stores have yet to come to some of The City’s poorer neighborhoods, such as the Tenderloin, where the challenge is a lack of space and high crime. The City persuaded a Fresh and Easy to locate in the Bayview district by offering tax credits and other incentives. But store construction was halted last summer due to the recession.

For the past three years, city officials asked dozens of grocery stores to move into an available 14,000-square-foot site in the Tenderloin, but they had no success.

“[Grocery stores] are not as comfortable with areas they perceive to be high [in] crime,” said Amy Cohen, The City’s director of neighborhood business development.

Residents in underserved areas say they don’t want to wait for a full-service grocery store. Instead, communities want The City to work with existing convenience stores to begin carrying fresh foods. Another idea: Forming cooperative markets where people can buy food and cook meals in the same space.

In the Tenderloin, The City is working with Tip Top Grocery Market, formally known as Grand Liquors, to become a full-blown grocery store. When the store moved last year, the owner was unable to transfer his liquor license after the community fought it. Since then, the store has been selling food. The City has offered the owner energy rebates and is helping him connect with family farmers to expand the store’s food options.

“The Tenderloin is a food desert,” said Don Falk, executive director of the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corp. “At this point, we are thinking maybe a [small] grocery store is the best we can get.”

Likewise, Bayview merchants want existing neighborhood markets, including Super Saver Foods, to start selling products that are not currently offered, said Benjamin Kaufman, outreach coordinator for the Bayview Merchants’ Association.

“People recognize there is a lack of fresh produce and fresh things in the Bayview; that’s a universal concern,” Kaufman said.

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Erin Sherbert

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