Food inconvenienced, but not food deserted

When Dominick’s closes, their hundreds of employees will not be the only ones whose lives will be drastically affected by the chain closing. Once DePaul University’s home Dominick’s location closes, many students and employees fear for malnutrition and lack of access to fresh produce.

“I fear for students who still live in dorms,” sophomore Nico May said. “When I lived in a dorm I came here almost every day to get my groceries. I’m on a budget, so I cook for myself. But I don’t think that students will travel the extra mile to eat healthy.”

Andrea Kinnerk, sophomore, said she worries about where she will shop next.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do. Dominick’s offers the cheapest prices on fresh food, which is something I personally value,” she said.

Kinnerk mentioned DePaul University’s mini-grocer, Etcetera, as a place she occasionally goes to get smaller items such as cereal or basic fruit such as apples and bananas.

“If you want a kiwi, though, you have to go to Trader Joe’s,” said Denise Henderson, an Etcetera employee.

She is unsure if Chartwell’s, Etcetera’s parent company, is doing anything to accommodate DePaul’s Dominick’s shoppers. This lack of access to fresh produce has raised concerns on campus about further deterioration of eating habits among students, similar to what many residents of food deserts, such as Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood, have been facing for years.

A food desert, defined by Mari Gallagher of the National Center for Public Research, is “an entire neighborhood, or a cluster of neighborhoods without a mainstream grocery store,” Chicago Magazine reported.

Mike, from Quick Stop Food and Liquor in Englewood, one of Chicago’s notorious food deserts, is the least concerned of anyone.

“There is no such thing as a food desert,” he said. “It’s all exaggerated by the politicians so that they can be ‘Mr. Fix-it.’ We’re not worried about that out here, residents have all they need from the smaller grocers. But politicians don’t count us.”

The Lincoln Park neighborhood is home to stores such as Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Treasure Island and seasonal yearly farmer’s markets, that may be too expensive for students on a budget that are aware of money-saving techniques. But as Mike said, speculators may be discounting the “little guy.”

The Lincoln Park area also houses discount stores such as Aldi and smaller grocers, such as Carnival Foods, The Market Place Foodstore and Big Apple Finer Foods.

Even when not accounting for these smaller grocers, though, DePaul does not face nearly the amount of issues that business owners do in Englewood, said Mike.

“Whole Foods will never last in here. They can’t handle the crime,” he said, referring to Whole Food’s newest project of potentially opening an Englewood location. “It’s not that business owners want to move. It’s that they have to. They lose too much money here.”

Taking crime and location desirability into account, DePaul University’s campus would have to undergo much more to digress to a food desert.

“The food desert is only part of the story – these are business deserts,” Terry Mason, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said in an interview with Chicago Magazine. “These neighborhoods are blighted and unsafe. There’s a poor tax: Things in these neighborhoods cost more, and it’s more difficult for businesses to operate there.”

Costly bills such as insurance and property taxes are, according to Mike, other reasons in addition to crime as to why these food deserts exist. As Lincoln Park has been a business destination for years, it is highly unlikely that potential DePaul business owners will need to weigh any of those concerns.

The smart grocer will jump at the chance to open shop for university students, faculty and Lincoln Park residents. The only other concern: when? As of Oct. 31, only four of the 72 Dominick’s locations have been sold. The company plans on closing all unsold locations by Dec. 28, according to an article on Crain’s Chicago Business website.

“I hope another grocer buys it soon,” Kinnerk said. “I can’t go very long without my sandwich, chips and drink lunch special for $4.99!”

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