Norfolk grocery store closure leaves St. Paul's residents in food desert during pandemic

Posted at 3:20 PM, Jun 18, 2020

NORFOLK, Va.— In less than 48 hours, a Norfolk neighborhood will become a food desert.

Some residents who live within the St. Paul's Quadrant found out Thursday their neighborhood grocery store is closing for good during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jamaica Davis lives near the Save A Lot on Church St. and says he typically walks - instead of driving - to the grocery store to get exercise.

“I just walked in and saw all of the countertops empty,” he said. "I asked a girl, 'Are you closing for real?' and she was like, ‘Yes.’”

The store closes Saturday at 12 p.m., according to an associate who answered the phone. It’s a devastating blow to neighbors who rely on the Save A Lot for fresh meat, produce and household goods.

The closure of the supermarket eliminates the only grocery store within walking distance to three public housing complexes in Norfolk: Tidewater Gardens, Young Terrace and Calvert Square. Superward 7 councilwoman Angelia Williams Graves says 4,200 people, including 2,200 children, live in those apartments.

In an email, a spokesperson for Save A Lot had this to say about the closure:

We take the decision to close any Save A Lot location very seriously. We regularly review our stores on a number of factors, including financial performance as well as strategic alignment with long-term plans. Unfortunately, as a result of this review, we will be closing our store on Church Street on June 20.
Spokesperson for Save A Lot

The decision leaves behind a food desert— an area where there is a high poverty and the nearest grocery story is more than a mile away for many residents.

“A lot of the people who live in this community rely on public assistance for their food benefits, and so one of the problems that we have is that they can’t do online shopping because of fees, and fees are not food,” said Graves.

The closest affordable supermarket for many will now be two miles away at the Aldi on 21st Street or the Food Lion on Colley Avenue.

“People don’t have transportation to get there,” said a frustrated Davis. “Then you go on the bus, and then what? You have to carry everything on the bus… it’s not right.”

Graves says she heard rumors in January or February about the store closing but says the focus became surviving the pandemic.

“You go to white neighborhoods, and you see three or four grocery stores. It’s like they’re falling all over each other, whereas black people can’t walk down the street and get anything but a Slurpee,” said Graves.

In contrast, residents in the affluent Ghent area have access to four grocery stores within a mile of each other.

Graves says the city is working to bus residents to other grocery stores by Monday. Long-term, they are exploring options such as a community co-op.

“I think we will get through this and we will come to a viable solution that works for most people. It may not work for every single person, but it will work for most people,” said Graves.

Graves says she will host a virtual community discussion on Facebook Live Saturday at 10 a.m. to get community input about solutions.

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