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Health

Price Chopper Closing In KCK Surprises City Officials, Sets Back Healthy Food Efforts

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Julie Jordan Scott Flickr -- CC

 A decades-old grocery store in northeast Kansas City, Kansas, is closing, delivering a blow to a part of town that’s already short on healthy food options.

The Price Chopper at 43rd and State Avenue, which has operated under different names for more than 30 years, will shutter on Sunday.

The closing came as a surprise to city officials.

“We've built six new grocery stores in the last eight years and we need to build more, so losing this one is a loss but it's something we're committed to replacing in short order,” said Mark Holland, the mayor of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas.

He said he was told the operator of the store, Balls Food Stores, regarded the store as under-performing.

Price Chopper officials did not return several phone calls seeking comment.

Lindsay Behgam, director of community relations for the Unified Government, has been working to attract a major grocery to downtown KCK. She said government officials found out about the closing only last Thursday.

“It’s a big loss,” she said.

There are only a handful of supermarkets in northeast KCK. Such stores tend to have a better variety of fresh food choices than small groceries or convenience stores.

“Our whole community is short on good, healthy food options,” Holland said. “That's why we've been so committed to building new grocery stores.”

In 2010, nearly a third of Wyandotte County’s population had low access to a supermarket or large grocery store, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Low access is defined as living more than a mile away from a major grocery operator.

“For want of a better term, it’s a food desert,” said Donna Martin, a public health planner at the Mid-America Regional Council, referring to the part of town where the Price Chopper is located.

Martin said she was told that Balls Food Stores plans to open a Sun Fresh grocery store nearby, but that could not be confirmed.

Behgam said the Unified Government is still working on attracting a major grocery operator downtown.

“We feel like we’ve made some inroads with an operator that’s not the original operator we were talking to,” she said.

Holland said the Unified Government hoped to have a letter of intent soon but acknowledged the difficulty of attracting a grocery store to an urban area.

“Urban grocery stores are hard because the free market will not build them on their own volition,” he said. “They don't pencil without a public/private partnership.”

Increasing access to healthy food is part of an initiative called Healthy Communities Wyandotte, which was launched several years ago after Wyandotte County was ranked last in among the state's counties in a major health survey. 

“I think the whole Healthy Communities Wyandotte initiative is about food access, and full-service grocery stores are a big part of that,” Holland said. “And making that work financially is challenging, but we're committed to it.”

Dan Margolies, editor of the Heartland Health Monitor team, is based at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.

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