Grocers Absent from BR's Scotlandville Neighborhood

Apr 17, 2013

For over 30 years, Scotlandville hasn’t been able to attract a grocery store.

Mayor Kip Holden has tasked the new Food Access Policy Commission with figuring out how to get grocers interested in investing in the community again.

Wednesday, the commission is looking over feedback recently collected from grocers about the worries that have kept them away.

With nearly 26,000 residents living in poverty without access to fresh food within a one-mile radius, Scotlandville is the largest food desert in Baton Rouge. 

Residents who remember booming businesses on Scotland Avenue and Scenic Highway are happy to see the mobile pantry each month. At the St. Michael located off 72nd Ave. fresh produce is distributed for free from refrigerated trucks.

For some residents this is the only way they get fresh produce.

Longtime resident, Shiela Spann, of 71st St. would prefer to shop in her own neighborhood, but there are no options.

“We have no decent grocery stores where we can buy fresh produce at. We have to go way on Plank Road, Baker to really get any kind of good produce. So, we really need this in our area,” Spann said.

The Baton Rouge Food Bank and Together Baton Rouge have run the seasonal pantry here since last year. The pantry normally opens around 9 a.m. But by 8 a.m. there’s already a long line underneath the blue tent. Volunteer Barbara Bracken counts off to let them in five at a time.

Packaged pepperoni and salad goes into a reusable WalMart grocery bag. Residents move through the line as a bag of potatoes, avocado, yogurt, and milk are distributed by volunteers.

Members of Baton Rouge Food Bank and Together Baton Rouge are part of the new food policy commission. They are aiming to make healthier options accessible to the seven food deserts in Baton Rouge, including Scotlandville.

Research compiled by the Pennington Biomedical Research Center shows the extent of food deserts in Baton Rouge. The Scotlandville community is located at the top with zip code 70807.
Credit Katy Drazba, MPH & Stephanie Broyles, PhD; Pennington Biomedical

Margaret Reed, co-chair of the food access team, said the commission has 10 months to get answers for why there’s a lack of fresh produce in the city.

“It can be solved with grocery stores in a food desert, which is what we have been working on in Scotlandville, mobile markets, food pantries, community gardens,” Reed said at the press conference introducing the commission.

The Nielsen Co., a consumer research firm, gathered data on Scotlandville in 2011. Nielsen found residents of Scotlandville spend almost $18 million a year on groceries. But only $5 million dollars is being spent in the area. $12.2 million dollars is going elsewhere.

So, if there is unmet demand here, why isn’t there a grocery store chasing the potential profit?

Clint Caldwell, Associated Grocers’ business development director,  said at the end of the day an investor wants to know they can break even in the first year. If not the investment becomes too much of a risk.

“A typical supermarket in our environment -- a 15,000-square-foot store -- is going to cost roughly $3.5 million before there’s ever anything sold in that store. That would be including the land, the equipment, the building, and the inventory.” Caldwell said.  

Caldwell is part of the food commission that wants to get a grocery store to set up shop in Scotlandville.

He said it might help to try bringing in not just a grocery store, but a whole shopping center -- maybe with a pharmacy, bowling alley, or movie theater too. That could draw in more customers and drive revenue for investors.  

Some commission members are saying they will also need to defray concerns about crime and population decline in Scotlandville to draw an investor who will build a grocery store there.