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For This Part Of Kansas City, Kansas, A Grocery Store Is So Rare It Requires Community Input

Andrea Tudhope
KCUR 89.3
A few dozen area residents gathered at El Centro Monday afternoon to weigh in on the new grocery store coming to downtown Kansas City, Kansas.

It's still about a year out, but there's a new grocery store coming to downtown Kansas City, Kansas, and Katherine Carttar, director of economic development for the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, said it's long overdue.

"We've had a food desert in this area for far too long," Carttar said. "The closest grocery store is the Sunfresh at 18th and I-70. For some people that's not too far, however for large segments of the population downtown, Strawberry Hill area, there's no full-service grocery store for miles."

Bringing a new store to the area has been about seven years in the works, Carttar said. The Unified Government has partnered with The Merc Co-op out of Lawrence, Kansas, for the $6 million project, which will bring a new 14,000 square-foot store to 5th and Minnesota.

UG officials have been soliciting public input on the look of the new store, but Orevis Tatum said she wishes they had asked for input on the location, first. 

Credit Courtesy of International Architects Atelier

Credit Courtesy of International Architects Atelier
Credit Courtesy of International Architects Atelier
UG officials have three mock-up designs for the new store that they are running by the community. Officials said they hope to start construction in six months.

Tatum lives in northeast Kansas City, Kansas. 

"I'm happy for them, I think it's good for people [downtown], but I don't think they're looking out for us in our area," Tatum said. "I'm blessed to have transportation, but so many people don't."

Verna Post, another northeast resident, agreed. 

"They took all the stores from us," she said.

Post drives over 20 minutes to shop at a Price Chopper out near the Nebraska Furniture Mart, and she said she will continue to go there. She said she feels that the location they chose was "inconsiderate."

Julianna Sellers works downtown. She said her biggest concerns are the cost and how the city's money is being used.

"There are a lot of smaller mom-and-pop shops. There's no lack of food around the region, why not subsidize more of these local stores and help them expand their shelves around the area? If they did that with 50 smaller shops that would increase accessibility throughout the region, versus consolidating it all in one huge conglomerate," Sellers said.

That also came up Monday at a public input session at El Centro, hosted by The Merc. A few dozen community members were able to gather information about the store and ask questions in Spanish — many in the room shop for less expensive produce at local Mexican and Hispanic markets.

But the top concern was affordability. Seeing "organic" on a label is a warning of a high price tag — that was the consensus for almost everyone at the table Monday. 

Anna Ramos has lived in the downtown area for 20 years, and shops mostly at Walmart and Aldi. She said she wants to be able to buy organic, but sometimes it's too expensive.

"Some things like milk, eggs and some kinds of fruits I like to buy, like cherry tomatoes — I like the flavor for my salads," she said. "I'm trying to introduce some of the organic foods [into my diet]."

After Monday's session, Ramos said she thinks The Merc is willing to meet the community's needs. 

The Merc General Manager Rita York Hennecke reassured the residents they would be involved — that, as a co-op, the store would be owned and staffed by the community.

"We have the ability to carry whatever people want," she said.

Store leaders from the Lawrence location, in partnership with a team from K-State Extension, will host several listening sessions in the coming months.

Andrea Tudhope is a reporter at KCUR 89.3. Email her at andreat@kcur.org, and follow her on Twitter @andreatudhope.

Andrea Tudhope is an award-winning multimedia journalist based in Kansas City, Missouri. She is currently coordinating producer for America Amplified, a national public media community engagement initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. 
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