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Lack of cash, grocery stores creates ‘food desert’ in Valley

Published: Sun, September 18, 2011 @ 12:08 a.m.


Darren Moore of Cohasset Drive walks home with his shopping cart full of fresh food and drinks from Jordan’s Market on Market Street on Youngstown’s South Side. The city is rated as the third worst urban “food desert’’ in the U.S.

By Alyssa Lenhoff and Timothy Francisco

The NewsOutlet.org

Philip Leyman spent many years working as a bagger at a Giant Eagle supermarket – an irony for a man whose cerebral palsy and seizures now require him to use a wheelchair and force him to rely on a bus or taxi for his own groceries.

Leyman and one of his neighbors, David Senediak, use a public bus to take them to Walmart in Boardman. The men, who live in the Goodwill Apartments near the Market Street-Midlothian Boulevard intersection, are among thousands of Youngstown residents who live in what is called a “food desert” — an urban area with limited access to fresh food.

A 2010 federal study listed the Youngstown metropolitan area as the nation’s third worst area for the number of people suffering food hardships because they don’t have enough money to feed themselves.

That may change with Bottom Dollar Food building three grocery stores, 621 W. Princeton Ave. near the Idora neighborhood; 890 E. Midlothian Blvd.; as well as 3377 Mahoning Ave. in the Mahoning Plaza. This discount grocery store chain, run by Food Lion and a subsidiary of Delhaize Group, has stores in New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

Though it’s a good step, those three grocery stores will not feed the entire city and may not change Youngstown’s federal ranking. The federal report, compiled by the Food Research and Action Center in 2010, says that 24 percent of the metro Youngstown population suffers because, in addition to the problem of scarce stores, many residents simply don’t have money to buy enough food to feed their families.

The report shows that only Memphis, Tenn., and Bakersfield, Calif., had more “food hardship” during 2008-09, the period of time studied.

Data from the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp. shows that most of Youngstown’s nearly 70,000 residents live more than a half -mile from a grocery store and that 18 percent of these people do not have access to a vehicle to drive them to stores.

City officials and organizers with the YNDC have launched several initiatives aimed at getting fresh food into Youngstown’s neighborhoods. In addition to luring supermarkets, they are working to set up urban gardens and farmers markets.

“There’s a lot to do,” said Ian Benniston, deputy director of the YNDC. “We have a very big problem in the city of Youngstown.”

Benniston said there are only five full-service grocery stores in the city or just over the border, and many city residents do not drive and live more than a short walk from them.

Leyman and Senediak epitomize that challenge. Neither drive, and Leyman’s wife, who also suffers from a disability, can drive, but they don’t have a car.

Leyman said he likes the apartment he shares with his wife and son. But he liked it even more when the Phar-Mor store was open at the corner of Midlothian and Market Street. That store, which sold everything from potatoes to dust pans, closed in 2002 and is now the Newport branch of the Public Library of Mahoning County.

At least once a week, Leyman, his wife and son take a bus to the Giant Eagle in Liberty. His wife and son take a taxi home because of the difficulty of managing the grocery bags on the bus.

Leyman has to take the bus because of his wheelchair. He said the total trip costs about $20 and cuts into their grocery budget – a budget that Leyman said is already tight.

“Eating right is so important for all of us,” Leyman said. “But it’s not easy, and it gets hard to get to the store and expensive to get there.”

Smaller stores, like Jordan’s Market in Youngstown, help fill in the shopping gaps.

Abdalla Shakhatreh has run Jordan’s since 1985. He is one of few merchants still operating on Market Street. Others have long since fled to the suburbs.

He is well aware of how important his grocery store is to the people who live in the neighborhoods that surround the lower portion of Market Street near downtown.

“They don’t have anywhere else to go,” Shakhatreh said.

Most of his customers walk or take the bus to the market, where they can pay utility bills, buy prepared food from the deli or get groceries, including some fresh fruit and vegetables. The market provides a hub of needed services. He said crime has never been a problem with his store.

Many so-called “corner markets” have signs on their buildings saying they offer food or groceries, but do not have fresh produce.

Shakhatreh has trouble understanding why other grocery retailers have not been able to stay open in city neighborhoods.

“These are good customers,” he said. “But I know them because I grew up here, and my kids know their kids.”

The NewsOutlet, which pairs student journalists with professionals, is a collaboration between Youngstown State University, Kent State University, the University of Akron and The Vindicator, The Akron Beacon Journal and Rubber City Radio.


1bmanresident(607 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

Well, with shootings and homicides, burgleries, and drug deals, and prostitution, and corrupt elected officials, and gang activities, and unzoned swimming pools, it's no wonder ANYONE would want to run a business in Youngstown, let alone a grocery store. Look at all the shoplifting that occurs at Walmart, it's no wonder a store cant survive the sub culture of Ytown

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2AnotherAverageCitizen(1194 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

ALL CITIES have shootings and homicides, burglaries, and drug deals, and prostitution, and corrupt elected officials, and gang activities. I guess with this logic no cities, anywhere would have businesses in them.

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3rushblvd(15 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

Its a shame nobody has ever tried to get the Pyatt St. market back in operation. That would make a great farmers market spot, and would help that area.. As far as Jordans store--It is safe and nice..Mr. Shakhatreh has a very safe grocery store and it's an asset to the neighborhood

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4Stan(9923 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

The staple that sustains life in the hood is malt liquor . Stores in the hood are well stocked with it and the very core of life is nourished . Stores only carry what there is a demand for .

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5taxpayer1001(274 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

"bman, ALL CITIES have shootings and homicides, burglaries, and drug deals, and prostitution, and corrupt elected officials, and gang activities. I guess with this logic no cities, anywhere would have businesses in them."

AAC, you have to be intelligent enough to not really compare Yo neighborhoods to others around it. There is nothing like it in the burbs. There may be some illegal activity, but most thefts are done by Yo residents that migrate to Boardman and Austintown to shop. Also, Yo has drug/gang related shootings and deaths weekly. You don't see that in surrounding areas. I get tired of statements like that when there is really NO comparison.

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6redvert(2239 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

Yes citizen, ALL CITIES have shootings and homicides. The same problem Ytown has is shared by many others and that is why many of them also have a hard time getting groceries etc. in their downtowns and into certain neighborhoods.

Remember, Ytown made the list as number three. Nowhere was it stated that there were only three on the list...

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7sue(179 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

Speaking of Walmart in Boardman. I will not go there anymore because I don't feel safe.

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8Lifes2Short(3882 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

"Shakhatreh has trouble understanding why other grocery retailers have not been able to stay open in city neighborhoods. "

Really?? It's not rocket science.

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9ytown1(398 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

Not to get off subject a little, but the main reason we should avoid Walmart would not be actual safety, but should be that they are the leader in destroying what is left of our manufacturing base. They are notorious for convincing anyone that wants to sell something in their stores that they need to ship production of their product to either China or some other third world county to just drive our existence down to that countries level.

Walmart is not helping the poor they are just adding more poor to shop there.

Free Trade needs addressed before we can correct the issues with our countries economical state. We need to have our own producing what we consume not others.

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10Superstar7(122 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

"Shakhatreh has trouble understanding why other grocery retailers have not been able to stay open in city neighborhoods."
1. The population of those areas are career criminals.
2. The crime has driven out the busimess community.
3. The parents that don't control their children are the problem.
4. Drive along the Southside side streets & you will see why businesses are closed.
5. If these urban dwellers allow their own neighborhoods to be trashed, why would anyone sane invest in these unappreciative, generational welfare peoples.
6. The urban dwellers have ruined it for themselves-children by the dozens they can't afford then allow the streets to raise. These are the disruptors in the schools that are the obstacles to those few that want to learn.
7. No welfare, no housing, no medical, no hospitals until they submit to implanted birth control. Why should people working 40-60 hours a week have to support these generational problem peoples when they demonstrate their animosity towards those supporting their generations?

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11choicelady(15 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

It must be nice to be so smug that you can mix up cause and consequence. Y'town has been gutted by corporate America who used then discarded the people of this area. When you have no jobs and thus no income, what do you think people become? It's America's race to the bottom - making working people the absolutely LAST priority. Finding ways to upgrade people's access to basics is a start toward urban resurrection. When people are healthy, they can start re-engaging with finding solutions. No one who is well off should point fingers at those the private sector abandoned. That could be - will be - you.

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12AnotherAverageCitizen(1194 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

taxpayer 1001,

You have to intelligent enough to know Boardman and Austintown are NOT cities.
What I was saying is CITIES, Akron, Cleveland, New Castle, Columbus, Pittsburg all have shootings and homicides, burgleries, and drug deals, and prostitution, and corrupt elected officials, and gang activities. But they still have grocery stores and businesses.

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13UnionForever(1470 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

Grocery stores go where the money is and the criminals aren't. Why would you locate in Youngstown where you run the risk of getting robbed, shot to death, and a large part of your inventory could be shop lifted by the Hoodrats. Hell even low class Walmart won't locate inside the city - that tells you a lot.

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