Wednesday, September 17, 2008

SEEDING GROCERY STORES

New Rules - A new, independently owned grocery store has risen in the place of what had been a run-down, sparsely stocked market in the small town of Williamsburg, Pennsylvania (pop: 1,345). Two hundred miles away, another new independently owned grocery store is opening. This one is in a low-income, African-American neighborhood in North Philadelphia, which has been without a supermarket for ten years.

Meanwhile, one of the oldest farmers markets in the country, which has operated in the center of Lancaster since the 1730s, recently took steps to stay in business for years to come by upgrading the systems in its 19th century building.

All of these projects were made possible by the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative, a four-year-old, statewide grant and loan program for grocery store development. The first of its kind in the nation, the program aims to combat a problem plaguing many low-income communities across the country: a severe shortage of stores selling fresh groceries.

By providing loans that commercial lenders deem too risky and grants to make up for the higher costs of developing stores in central business districts and urban neighborhoods, this $120 million investment fund is seeding a new crop of food markets across the state.

To date, FFFI has made $42 million in grants and loans to finance 58 projects, about 40 percent of which are new stores and the remainder are expansions and major renovations of existing outlets. The stores range in size from tiny greengrocers to 70,000-square-foot supermarkets. About half are located in urban neighborhoods in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and the rest in small towns across rural Pennsylvania.