Louisville's vacant grocery stores find new tenants. But they won't sell food
The Courier Journal's continued coverage of food insecurity in Louisville is supported by the University of Southern California Center for Health Journalism's 2018 National Fellowship.
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Empty grocery stores across Louisville could soon find new uses as an indoor fun park, a brewery and even the possible extension of a nearby hospital — renewed life that is welcome to neighbors who don't want the properties to sit vacant forever.
But as more grocery stores close than open in Jefferson County, some residents say they're still disappointed that the buildings will not again provide food to their communities.
Since 2015, more than a dozen grocery stores of different sizes have closed citywide, forcing some residents to spend more time or money to get the food they need.
Several of the buildings are still unoccupied, including a former Save-A-Lot in Shelby Park, a former Pic Pac on Eastern Parkway and a former Kroger on Seventh Street Road.
In recent weeks, however, two former groceries were sold to companies that plan to use the buildings for unrelated ventures.
In Old Louisville, Domino Partners LLC purchased the former Kroger at 922 S. Second St., where it plans to open Noble Funk Brewery.
In February, Phillips Edison & Company — a property management firm in Cincinnati — also filed a rezoning application for a former Walmart at 1915 S. Hurstbourne Parkway, proposing that the building could become an indoor fun park or entertainment venue.
The shifting functions matter less for some of the properties, which were a short distance from other traditional grocery stores.
But in areas like Old Louisville that lack a variety of options for fresh, affordable food, the changes are somewhat disheartening.
"It's always good to have new businesses opening in and around Old Louisville," said David James, who represents District 6 on the Metro Council. "But it doesn't take away from the fact that we need to have neighborhood grocery stores.
"There are still locations where those can take place. We're still continuing our fight and our effort to have some neighborhood grocery stores in the urban area."
James said his office regularly communicates with grocery operators in the hopes of attracting one to Old Louisville, which is home to larger populations of senior citizens and people with disabilities who can find it difficult to travel to stores outside their neighborhood.
But as grocery chains move toward supercenters that can pull from a larger radius, James said his office is also working with locally owned businesses and nonprofits that can fill the gaps by providing food at a smaller scale.
For instance, a group of volunteers is working toward opening a community-owned grocery in either Old Louisville or Shelby Park. And Dare to Care Food Bank has partnered with Kroger to launch a mobile market, which could stop by the neighborhood for a few hours each week.
5 Brothers Grocery & Smokeshop has started selling packaged meat, produce and a small assortment of frozen foods at 1159 S. Fourth St. And another similar business is under construction at 1035 S. Third St.
James said the ventures can be a "stop-gap measure" until the community figures out how to increase food access in areas with fewer options.
"I don't know that the traditional neighborhood grocery store is what that will be in the future," James said. "But that doesn't remove the fact that we still need to have groceries and fresh produce available to people who live throughout the city."
Alex Croley, who lives in Audubon Park, said he's disappointed that the Walmart in his neighborhood won't return to a grocery store.
He now shops at Aldi on Preston Highway for himself and his aging mother, who cannot easily visit the store herself.
Croley said he understands that the modern grocery model is changing. And he recently purchased a yearlong subscription to Instacart so that his mom can order groceries when she needs them, instead of waiting for her son to go to the store.
The delivery service uses personal shoppers — much like drivers with Uber — to pick up and deliver items from partnering stores, including Kroger, Aldi, CVS and PetCo.
"For the elderly that are home-bound, like my mother, it helps immensely," said Croley, who added that the app has both its pros and cons.
"Instacart is kind of a solution. But it's still kind of like taking a taxi."
[This story was originally published by The Courier-Journal.]