Of Food and Justice

Kroger building in downtown Cincinnati

The topic of food justice greatly interests me, not only intellectually, but because it directly impacts my life. But, every time I hear about the Great Downtown Cincinnati Supermarket Crisis, I’m a bit puzzled. I don’t know that access to nutritious, reasonably priced food has ever been so easy for me.

As you probably already know, I don’t drive, so I do my grocery-shopping on foot. Sure, I’ve taken the bus to the IGA on Ludlow, Whole Foods in Rookwood, or East Walnut Hills Kroger, but that’s rare. Most of my food comes from Findlay Market and the Vine St. Kroger, augmented by jaunts to CVS, Garfield Market, etc. If you consider the whole basin, you can find practically anything you need. [You might have to walk a bit farther than you’d like, and forget about buying anything on Sunday nights.]

Since Kroger is headquartered downtown, there really should be an amazing flagship store right here [although, to be fair, the word “amazing” doesn’t describe any Kroger]. If I were in charge, this flagship would have, like, robots and moving sidewalks and new foods fresh out of the lab. Vegan goetta? Gooseberry juice? Yes! The local Kroger would test out new products and technologies, while serving as a family-friendly tourist attraction. Alas, I don’t think Kroger is that kind of forward-thinking company.

So, back to reality. In my two years here, the Vine St. Kroger has expanded its selection of foods I like. For instance, it now carries Peanut Butter & Co. peanut butter and Knudsen juices. At least a few people, including myself, have talked to the staff about carrying healthier foods, and it’s a baby step that seems to have worked. So, if you live in the basin, I encourage you to shop at this Kroger and show that there’s demand for these kinds of foods.

Side note about the Vine St. Kroger — I’ve heard from many [white] people that they feel threatened and/or have been harassed outside the store. Maybe I’m just lucky and/or not paying attention, but I don’t think I’ve been treated any worse there than I have at Avril & Bleh’s, where the staff eyes me suspiciously, as though I’m about to steal mustard [which used to annoy me until I decided that it’s actually pretty funny].

Side note about Avril & Bleh’s — sure, the new market next door is a great addition to my Walk Score, but the split between two stores is beyond stupid. And the place is closed on Mondays!

Speaking of my Walk Score, Bang’s Market shows up as my nearest grocery store. But what if I need something other than incense or diapers or a 40? Bang’s will only carry what I want if I shop there on a regular basis. But, I don’t and won’t, so I can’t really complain that my corner market is actually five blocks away.

Why am I rambling about all this? A few days ago, I made my first trip to Findlay in probably a month and was thrilled to find Covington’s Bean Haus in the market building. The best part is that they sell skim milk by the gallon, which I’ve always bought at a chain drugstore downtown. Apparently, as soon as they opened, there was demand for their milk, which they stocked for their drinks. So, they started selling it, and voila! I’ve just saved myself a trip in the opposite direction, and I can buy my milk from a friendly, independent business for a fairly reasonable price.

I don’t expect to see a suburban-style mega-supermarket in downtown Cincinnati anytime soon. In fact, I hope it doesn’t happen. I do hope that my neighbors patronize Findlay, Kroger, and the various corner markets, and that our grocery dollars encourage these stores to stock a better variety of nutritious foods. And maybe even expand their hours? Direct action works, and the Bean Haus example should prove inspiring.

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18 thoughts on “Of Food and Justice

  1. My bet is that Cincinnati will hear the announcement of a full-scale grocery store somewhere downtown this year. Maybe at The Banks, around Fountain Square, or somewhere else. I just think it’s gonna happen (you heard it here first). Nice post.

  2. That’s cool. I’m a lot less interested in the infusion of suburban-style amenities into Cincinnati’s core than I am in the cultivation of its urban qualities, like viable alternatives to huge supermarkets.

  3. I see a large scale grocery store (which must be creatively integrated into the urban fabric like they are in many downtowns) as a net positive. Sure, I think shopping at Findlay is the penultimate urban experience, and I wouldn’t give it up for the world. However, a Trader Joe’s or something similar would not only increase the variety of available goods for those already living here, it would be great ammunition in getting the suburban types to reconsider the benefits of living in the core.

    Like it or not, it has to be a war of hearts and minds to get greater interest in urban living.

  4. I don’t have a problem with a downtown supermarket, although I’d take a smattering of decent corner stores and more specialty grocers over a large supermarket at The Banks. The quality of my life greatly improved when I moved here and started shopping at Findlay. Now, on the rare occasion that I find myself at Hyde Park Kroger, my eyes just glaze over! Really, my point is simply that I’m not wringing my hands about this particular crisis.

  5. i totally agree with you about kroger. i won’t shop there… i think that a grocer should focus on quality grocery products and store design and not selling leather jackets and cell phones with signage designed by a secretary using microsoft word.

    also, sean is correct about winning suburban hearts and minds about a grocery store downtown. however, i think a huge store there is sort of stupid. i mean, are you really going to walk to the mega store from your downtown condo, only to have to schlep back 15 bags? or do you get in your car, drive 4 blocks, and drive everything back… which pretty much defeats the point of living downtown. shopping at smaller places that you go to throughout the week is what people do when they live in urban areas.

  6. Drew, I don’t think bigger is necessarily better. I’d rather spend less time in a smaller, well-edited store than have to traverse a mega-market like Hyde Park Kroger. I’m not a fan of shopping at Target, WalMart or Ikea either.

  7. I lived downtown Indianapolis at Riley Towers for two years. A full scale grocery was a block away. But I saw plenty of my fellow downtown apartment dwellers uptown at the larger box stores all the time. Now having lived in Prospect Hill (near downtown) for twenty years I have never needed a grocery store downtown. I can name six full scale grocery stores that are less than 10 minutes by car. Add a few minutes and the numbers grow. Not many suburbanites have that many choices. It is understandable Kroger has had no interest the investment. The market is saturated. If Cincinnati were flat without hills, several of those stores would have probably closed years ago. Like the Ohio River splitting Kentucky as another country. So does Ohio topography split perceptions of distance.

    I am always amazed how so many people will say that they would move downtown if there were a grocery store. We already have one of the finest fresh markets in the country. Findlay Market is only blocks away. Now as a Cincinnati Business District condo dweller I hope to change my buying habits. I plan on taking advantage of the better opportunities that downtown offers over big box. Fresh food for less money at Findlay Market and at Court. I also noticed that my perception has changed now that I live in the flat basin. I would have never considered taking my bike to Findlay because I lived on a steep hill. I now look forward to my bicycle grocery trips. What could be better in life. Eating healthier for less and all in a bike ride.

  8. I don’t think that a super market has to be classified as suburban. But I doubt that there really is need for one in downtown Cincinnati. It may attract people to live here, but that seems like putting the cart before the horse.

  9. You know, I’ve always heard you could get a gallon of milk at Findlay and never knew exactly where or how until today. Thanks for the update! I like the idea of a flagship Kroger’s too đŸ™‚

  10. “…having lived in Prospect Hill (near downtown) for twenty years I have never needed a grocery store downtown. I can name six full scale grocery stores that are less than 10 minutes by car. ”

    But not necessarily accessible on Fox, foot. IGA in Clifton by bus, or Kroger in Walnut Hills by bus. Ciancciola’s on Main has fresh produce but little selection of poultry, meat, etc. If you live without a car, you can find groceries downtown, but the process takes longer. The whole suburban supermarket paradigm assumes that customers are using cars to get there, and have room to haul many bags of groceries in said vehicles. Selling to people who buy only enough to fill the one or two bags they can carry is less profitable.

    Also, I wish every photo-shopping software package featured a “Delete Kroger Building” button, CTRL-ALT-Gerschwinde-Already. Within it’s vast, hollow, Phillip Johnson-on-thorazine featurelessness, surely there must be floorspace for retail grocery sales. Or maybe they could just implode the damn thing and start again, please.

  11. David, you’re right that it’s a completely different paradigm. A lot of the time, I find that I can buy groceries near my house without making a special trip because I stop by places on my way to and from taking care of other things. To me, the idea of a supermarket trip seems like a burden. Then again, I don’t buy tons of groceries at one time, but less more frequently. It’s just a different mode of thinking.

  12. As someone who lives near downtown, I find that the only thing I use the car for is groceries. I can walk to class and take the bus to work, but it’s just easier to buy a week’s worth of groceries if you have a trunk.

    And I’ve tried it without a car, too. I used to live someplace that was flat and had bike lanes, so my husband and I would buy all that could fit in our baskets, knapsacks, and handlebars. But that still had us making two trips a week, and I must say, it’s easier if you have a car and only need to do it once a week.

    (and now that I think of it, we could probably use the backseats and only do grocery trips once every two weeks. The only thing that wouldn’t work for is fruit, but fruit is light to carry and sold a half mile from our house)

  13. Wow, I guess you and I have different shopping habits. We drive for groceries every couple of months, usually to Trader Joe’s, and then make more-or-less weekly trips to Findlay and Vine St. Kroger, alternating between the two.

    Today’s Cincinnati Blog features an open letter to Kroger on this very topic. Personally, I agree with one of the comments about focusing on Findlay. I prefer fewer megastores in my own neighborhood.

  14. I was just revisiting this post as I contemplate moving from renting in Clifton to buying in OTR. I think I would be pretty happy with the food situation as it stands right now with Findlay expanding hours, and enough other stores to pick up the dry goods and all. I think honestly you can make do at Findlay for just about everything if you know where to look (things like milk being the work-arounds, but I hear theres someone even selling Snowville creamery milk right now…can’t remember if its Madison’s or one of the markethouse shops places).

    I do find the current existence of Vine street Kroger pretty absurd. Maybe they are reasoning that they have been trying to cater to the area and demographic, but how do you in good conscience place the ugliest/strangest front-loading building on the site of the first Kroger? Shouldn’t it be something to celebrate? Why is there not some sort of flagship or concept store at the headquarters building or nearby? Why can’t they stick a freshmarket type concept somewhere in the urban core, where it seems like it would make sense?

    Also, I’m not a big fan of the big-box experience either, but I was recently scooting around aerial view on googlemaps and couldn’t help but think that there could be a good opportunity for intelligent retail over that giant swath of parking that is bordered by Eggleston, Reading, and Gilbert. It would be easy access for OTR/Downtown/Mt Auburn/Mt Adams traffic and might drive enough traffic to make pendleton seem less scary to people watching negative news stories that have come up recently.
    Make some giant stacking (subterranean?) garages instead of the sea of parking lots and you wouldn’t have to worry about displaced parking…heck put the garage as close to downtown as possible and people might thank you for it. It could be mixed use residential/retail. I think a bookstore would be nice. There are a number of great eccelectic/used book retailers as it is right now, as well as an awesome library, but if I need a more up to date book or obscure magazine, or best seller that I’m never going to get a hold of at the library, it would be nice to have some place to go to not across the river or up the highway. I’m not sure what else what be a good fit besides a maybe persuading Jungle Jims after their second location fell through at Ridge Road and I guess I’d be a little worried that new construction would lead to some chain creep, but I think a lot of things would be preferable to parking lot, and increased traffic and living in that area could be a good strengthener to the basin. Maybe if there were a way to do an Ohio native craft market, or local makers collective or something local arts based as well (beyond just painting/sculpture art, which has established places like Pendleton and galleries on Main). Or just turn the resulting space into a giant model organic urban farm…sponsored by Kroger

  15. Matt, I agree that Findlay serves well for just about every need, although I just don’t understand why everyone’s been making such a big deal of its recently expanded hours. Unless and until all the vendors decide to keep consistent, expanded hours, your shopping window remains as it was. Sure, the building’s open until 6pm, but how many vendors stay open that late?

    The Kroger situation seems like a really obvious missed opportunity to me [for them, or for another grocery chain], but it does carry a fair amount of stuff you may need or want, and I’ve found the staff to be open to suggestions, which has really surprised me.

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