6/22/2017 Peter Durantine

Student Investigates Why Grocery Stores Leave Neighborhoods

It was the first Giant grocery in the city of Lancaster, located in a low- to moderate-income neighborhood, but after 40 years, the supermarket chain closed the store, leading to protests and providing a subject for Hackman Summer Scholar Wendy Sherman’s research.

As a Franklin & Marshall double major – business, organizations and society and environmental studies – Sherman used some journalistic approaches to find out why the grocery store would leave a community of which it was considered a significant part.

“One of the reasons the protesting neighbors are attached to this Giant is that is was very much a community there,” Sherman said. “I went to the Giant before it closed and it was very clear to me that it was a community. People were talking to each other in line and they knew their names and their stories.” 

  • Associate Professor of Art History Linda Aleci, Sherman’s faculty adviser on the project, talk about the increasing problem of urban "food deserts." Associate Professor of Art History Linda Aleci, Sherman’s faculty adviser on the project, talk about the increasing problem of urban "food deserts." Image Credit: Deb Grove

So-called “food deserts,” created when grocery stores leave city neighborhoods, occur routinely across the country, said Associate Professor of Art History Linda Aleci, who is Sherman’s faculty adviser on the project. Associate Professor of Organization Studies Nancy Kurland is an informal adviser.

“Giant is competing now with Wegmans and Whole Foods, so it’s all about up-marketing,” Aleci said of the two upscale supermarket chains that are planning to open stores in Lancaster.

When a grocery leaves an urban neighborhood, the community is effectively denied access and convenience to food. Low- to moderate-income residents who are elderly, disabled or without transportation, public or otherwise, are left to make tough decisions about how to get their groceries, Sherman said.

In her research, the rising junior from New Jersey read the local newspaper’s current and archival stories about Giant’s decision to close the store, examined the city mayor’s commission report about food availability, perused academic articles on food access and hunger, and followed the protestors on Facebook and the general readers’ comments on the newspaper’s website.

“I’ve gotten details on how this Giant closing came about and all the activists who came together to try and create change in the community,” Sherman said. “I also went to a protest in front of Giant that some local activists came to and I did some interviews. I plan to do more in the future.”

Sherman said grocery chains face a duality because they have responsibilities both in the private and in the public sector.

“At what point are we going to have to regulate it?” she said. “Because now it’s getting too competitive and supermarkets are leaving low-income neighborhoods and the residents don’t have access to food.”

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