Built Environments #10: “I wish this was a…”

Walk Score, a website that measures the “walkability” of a neighborhood, gives Old Fourth Ward a score of 79. According to Walk Score O4W has 45 restaurants, bars, and coffee shops and a denizen of the O4W can walk to one or more of those features in about 5 minutes. According to Walk Score’s ranking system a score of 79 classifies the O4W as “very walkable” meaning one can accomplish most of their errands on foot.

The 45 restaurant choices range from cheap to pricey, or healthy to fatty, or grimy to sparkling. However, you choose to rank your eateries you can find some combination of all three of those categories. Although, cheap, healthy, and sparkling may be limited to a frozen yogurt shop. One can get their hair done, their nails done, and an outfit dry-cleaned to prepare for a night on the town all in the Old Fourth Ward. One could drop off a prescription, walk to a doctor’s or dialysis appointment, and go to the dentist in the O4W. Many people can walk or bike to work or school downtown. The Old Fourth Ward is pretty walkable. Unless, you don’t need to get coffee, or a haircut, or to go to the health clinic, then it’s not walkable. If you need to get groceries, the Old Fourth Ward gets un-walkable very fast.

Walk Score claims that there are four grocery stores in walking distance. That’s within a mile for most residents. Southern Food Store, Banna Grocery, Market Across the Street, and North Ave Food Mart contribute to the Old Fourth Ward’s score of 79. These four locations are convenience stores, at best. All four of them sell pain relievers, alcohol, tobacco products, and junk food. A couple carry necessities like milk, tampons, and condoms. There aren’t very many vegetables though. Even at Market Across the Street, the fanciest corner store ever, there are more freshly baked cakes than there is produce.

This is a surreptitious photo of the cooler in Boulevard Lotto & Grocery.  They've got some dairy-staples like milk, butter, and eggs. There's a wide variety of processed meats, and nary a  vegetable.

This is a surreptitious photo of the cooler in Boulevard Lotto & Grocery.

Grocery Store Map

There are some benefits to having your neighborhood gentrify, if you manage to avoid being dislodged by progress, especially when it comes to food access. Poncey-Highlands which, as I mentioned previously, started gentrifying in the 1980s and it seems to be the most extreme case in Metro-Atlanta when it comes to food access increasing as the income level of the neighborhood increases. Poncey-Highlands is a pretty small community that boast three large grocery stores within a mile. Whole Foods is .3 miles from Kroger, and Kroger is about half a mile from Publix. As a resident of O4W I’m jealous.  I’d like to walk to just one grocery store to buy produce that’s not bruised, frozen, or sold at exorbitant convenience store prices. It would also be awesome if that location took EBT.

There’s a small empty store on Irwin Street in the Old Fourth Ward. It has a living space attached. It’s got some parking along the street out front. It’s primo real estate. It’s also a prime target for dance partying, vandalism, and always looks like someone tried to kick the door in. Probably because someone did try to kick the door in.

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I think that if would be a great time to bring back the grocer. Atlanta Journal Constitution published an article called “The return of the corner store”. As far as I’m concerned low-income neighborhoods are saturated with corner stores. They’re all calling themselves markets or food marts. Most of them advertise tobacco, cigarettes, and lotto tickets prominently on the front of the store. Even as neighborhoods gentrify, the fancier, high-end corner stores seem fixated on selling alcohol and tobacco with craft beer prominently displayed, and tobacco often holds the place of honor behind the cashier.

However, the article wasn’t about the dingy corner store of my youth or the cool corner store of my adulthood. It was about the rise of the grocer. More specifically it was about Boxcar Grocer in Castleberry Hill (another gentrifying neighborhood) southwest of downtown’s center.  Boxcar Grocer makes me so jealous of Castleberry Hill I can barely stand it. Forget the murder-Kroger (which honestly has only been the scene of one murder), or mega expensive Whole Foods, or–I keep forgetting it’s there–Publix. Boxcar Grocer sells organic produce, some local produce and goods, healthy prepared meals, and some national brands.

It’s owned by two siblings, Alison and Alphonso Cross. They didn’t choose Castleberry Hill to appeal to the hip and upwardly mobile crowd that typically occupies a space that touts its commitment to organic food. The sidebar of its website is filled with links related to food justice, food policy, urban farming, and other food-related social justice resources. They talk about accessibility and to meet that goal, they’re getting an EBT machine. I’ve only gotten to read about Alison and Alphonso, but if we meet, we might become BFFs.

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I wish the battered, empty, little store on Irwin was a corner grocer. The kind that specializes in vegetables and carries other conveniences as an afterthought. It can’t be exactly like Boxcar Grocer (although I’d love that), but that small space could carry a lot of local produce and goods. It could take EBT so that people who use EBT could buy groceries in the Old Fourth Ward without having to hop on a bus or two or drive to get the store. Maybe it could even get a grant that would allow it to double the value of food stamps.

The yard space in the back could hold several raised beds to grow vegetables and maybe even a chicken coop if they could get the zoning for it. I’d love for Alison and Alphonso to open a tiny version of Boxcar Grocer right in O4W, but I’ll take any food accessibility-interested imitators who’d take up the task. The O4W cannot survive on beer, cake, chips, and tobacco. 

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