By Karl Henkel
For years, Youngstown has been a “food desert,” a term given to struggling urban areas with few full-service grocers.
But come Thursday, the city will grow its number of chain grocery stores by three.
Bottom Dollar Food will open three 18,000-foot, brightly lit and painted stores within the city at 2649 Glenwood Ave., near the Idora neighborhood; 890 E. Midlothian Blvd.; and 3377 Mahoning Ave. in the Mahoning Plaza.
“It’s absolutely a huge victory for the city of Youngstown to be able to attract a national grocery-store chain,” said Presley L. Gillespie, executive director of the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp.
The discount-grocery store chain, run by Food Lion and a subsidiary of Belgium-based Delhaize Group, is venturing into Ohio for the first time. Youngstown is its test location.
“We thought it would be an area where the customers had a need,” said Barb Bell, district manager.
The need has been well documented.
A 2010 federal study listed the Youngstown metro area as the nation’s third-worst for the number of people suffering food hardships because the city also has a high poverty rate.
YNDC shows most of the city’s 66,982 residents live more than a half-mile from a grocery; 18 percent don’t have access to a vehicle.
Youngstown has five full-service chain grocers in the city: two Sparkle Markets, one in Cornersburg and one on Mahoning Avenue, and Save-A-Lots on South Avenue, McCartney Road and Gypsy Lane.
“It’s essential, especially if they have good produce and good meat,” said Suzanne Mikos of McDonald, who along with her husband Bruno on Tuesday signed up for Bottom Dollar membership cards, which allow customers to take advantage of special weekly discounts.
Larry Scheid, manager of the Bottom Dollar on Mahoning, said the company has both produce and meats covered.
Each location has a large, apartment-sized walk-in refrigerator set to 45-degree temperatures for all produce.
There also is a full aisle of frozen meats and deli items.
The stores have 6,500 commonly used items ranging from produce to dog food to cleaning supplies and alcohol, about two-thirds of which are national brands.
Bottom Dollar, which employs about 30 at each location, also has its own store brands.
The idea of having a grocery store within walking distance excites Councilman Paul Drennen, D-5th.
“That area hasn’t had anything over there in a long time,” he said, referring to the Glenwood location. “There’s nothing within any kind of walking distance.”
But not all residents are happy that a new nonunion grocer has come to town.
The United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which in 2009 set up pickets at Henry Nemenz’s nonunion stores in Sharon, Pa., Hubbard, Poland and Struthers, has already stationed itself outside the Bottom Dollar locations.