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The city of Jackson wants to redevelop its south side, starts with bringing a grocery store to the area

Grocery Store
Posted at 2:57 PM, Jul 14, 2022

JACKSON, Mich. — How easy is fresh food access in Jackson? It depends on who you ask, but Jackson city officials are hoping to change that in one part of the city.

The Jackson City Council recently purchased a 1.3 acre lot in the city’s south side with the hopes of working with someone to turn the lot into a much-needed small market.

Some consider the south side of Jackson a food desert because it’s an area that has limited access to affordable and nutritious food options

Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center Director Antonio Parker, who has been embedded in that area, says it’s been over 20 years since they have had a store like that.

“I graduated from Jackson High School in 2001, and it’s 2022,” he said. “The last grocery store was Shop ‘n Save, and when I graduated, that store was shutting down, so it’s been 20 years, two decades of no fresh produce, no local grocery store on the south side of Jackson, and it’s affected the health of many, many people over the years. That’s the basic foundation of your health is your produce, your fruits and vegetables.”

According to the city’s Chief Equity Officer John Willis, this happened due to redlining practices in the 1930s, which was a form of illegal lending discrimination against primarily Black home buyers that lived in certain communities.

Most of the southeast part of Jackson was in the red area, and as a result, it suffered from a loss of home and business equity.

And now, according to officials, the main goal is to rebuild the area.

“Not only does the community reap the benefits of being able to buy fresh produce, fresh grocery, but it also raises the value of the homes and the other businesses in that community,” Willis said. “Generally, if you can get a quality grocery store, you can get some of the economic development opportunities around that. Whether that’s a banking business, whether that’s restaurants, whether that’s the different things because they will attract people to that area as well.”

The vacant lot sits next to a Dollar General with a Family Dollar across the street. Nearby grocery stores are not within walking distance, about three to five miles away, which to some may not seem like a long distance, but according to Willis, having access to fresh food is crucial to developing a community.

“I’m a young guy, and I can move around pretty good, but you get an elderly person who struggles to get from point A to point B and may not have a car, they may have to get on the bus with grocery bags that's got to go from Chittock Street out to Spring Arbor Road to get fresh produce and carry grocery bags in the store it’s just tough where they could just be able to go to a local grocery store, a local south side grocery store and get one,” Parker said.

The work isn’t stopping with trying to add a grocery store. Willis also serves on the MLK Corridor Improvement Authority. They are tasked by the city to promote redevelopment in the area from Martin Luther King, Jr., Drive from downtown Jackson to the city limits at west South Street and Prospect Street from Fourth Street to Cooper Street.

“You have to remember in 1960 there were 61 businesses on MLK Boulevard,” Willis said. “Today we have about 13, so we want to economically grow that area. The rest of Jackson is growing fantastically. It is great to ride on West Avenue, see the new business developments, downtown new business developments. What the city is making an intentional investment in is making sure the south side grows as well.”

Everything is still in the very early stages. For the city, Arlene Robinson, who is the council member for this area, will be having a community meeting next month to present this idea as well as get feedback.

“We’re not trying to gentrify our community. We’re trying to empower our community,” Willis said. “There’s a big difference there. It will be great for us to have some type of economic development, whether that’s a grocery store, whether that’s something else, whether that’s a health clinic, credit union or bank, just some development in that area that says to this area that the city of Jackson is serious about empowering this community with intentional investment into the south side of Jackson.”

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