One of the more galling indignities suffered by residents of poorer neighborhoods is the lack of a convenient, nearby place to buy food at competitive prices. It is a basic quality-of-life issue, which is why Buffalo city officials and community-based organizations need to work together to devise a plan for an East Side neighborhood food market.
A neighborhood market certainly is feasible, and supportable by residents. It's not for want of effort that there's no market. But up to now, good intentions haven't solved the problem.
The city maintains that it's committed to bringing a neighborhood food market to the area. One possibility is the site of the former General Electric Building at East Ferry Street and Fillmore Avenue, which was once proposed by a steering committee for a community-owned supermarket. State Sen. and former Masten Council Member Byron W. Brown was instrumental in setting aside money from a lawsuit settlement with the company for building a grocery store at that site.
In addition to having a recently built police station, the city has put that site in a proposed Empire Zone - a state program that delivers generous tax incentives. The state is expected to decide on whether to include the site as an Empire Zone by the end of next month.
So why isn't there a grocery store also standing on that site? After all, the city has offered tax, infrastructure and cost incentives to potential marketers - such as Tops Friendly Markets. In fact, city officials and the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp. (BERC) worked for almost two years with Tops on a deal to bring several Wilson Farms full-sized supermarkets into the area. The stores would have included the same square footage found in regular-sized supermarkets, with the same competitive prices and variety found in its parent Tops store. But the deal - like many others in the past with other companies - fell apart.
City officials and BERC have hopes that other grocers they've been in discussions with will want to move into the East Side. The constant setbacks are enough to leave residents scratching their heads as they watch other neighborhoods - including the West Side, which is expected to see its Tops store expand - enjoy convenient shopping at reasonable prices.
Changes in corporate management at Tops contributed to the end of the discussion by the company. But Tops can't be blamed for making a business decision. City officials, however, shouldn't take any comfort in just coming close.
The Resurgence City Center for Cooperative Community Development at Buffalo State College is trying to put together a committee to try to bring an East Side supermarket to fruition. It would include the key players from the city as well as the community. Its goal is to be as inclusive as possible, said center officialDouglas Koritz, who also is chairman of the economics and finance department at Buffalo State.
For the sake of the residents on the East Side, the city needs to display a sense of urgency in this matter.