D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration is acknowledging that communities East of the river don’t have enough grocery stores. On Oct. 14, D.C. Council member Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7) led hundreds of residents from his home ward to Ward 8  in an effort to highlight that there are only three full-service grocery stores in Wards 7 and 8. On Oct. 17, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s deputy mayor for planning and economic development, Brian Kenner, announced two projects in the city’s East End that will include grocery stores.

Ward 7 Council member Vincent Gray says there needs to be more full service grocery stores in southeast D.C. (Courtesy Photo)

In a recent report, D.C. Hunger Solutions, an advocacy organization, noted that in 2016 there were 49 grocery stores in the District with each ward averaging six stores. The report said that Ward 6, which borders Wards 7 and 8, had 10 supermarkets and at that time, three, including the spiffy Whole Foods on H Street., N.E. and Trader Joe’s on Pennsylvania Ave., S.E., were on the way.

In response to the outcry of residents of the East End of the city, Bowser and Kenner announced the Neighborhood Prosperity Fund to provide support for two key projects. The projects are at the Penn Hill development located at The Shops at Penn Hill in Ward 7 and the South Capitol and Atlantic Streets., S.E. in Ward 8.

“The Neighborhood Prosperity Fund is an opportunity for us to infuse economic support into areas that need it most,” Bowser said in a statement. “Through these grants, we are being strategic about investing in projects that will improve the quality of life for residents, in this case, by bringing new jobs, services, and grocery options to the residents of Wards and 7 and 8.”

Kenner told the AFRO that the $2.1 million Penn Hill development provides space for a grocery store. “The city doesn’t identify which grocer will be there because the city doesn’t own Penn Hill,” he said. “The developer is Jair Lynch and I don’t know who he is negotiating with.”  The AFRO was not able to reach Lynch before publication.

As far as the $888,000 South Capitol project, Kenner said that project has grocer space also and “it will serve as a catalyst for food opportunity.”

According to Ward 7 Council member Vincent Gray, The prospect of a grocery store opening in the Penn Hill development is ideal. “Having affordably priced food available for residents is basic, and that is why I introduced three bills including the East End Health Care Desert, Retail Desert, and Food Desert Elimination Act of 2017 to create a path for full service grocery stores and other retail to locate in Ward 7 and 8 to improve East End residents’ access to quality food options within their own neighborhood,” he said

Kenner said there are possible grocery store opportunities at the Skyland site in Ward 7 and St. Elizabeth’s East.

“Over the years you become accustomed to it and make due,” Milton Steele III, a resident of Hillcrest in Ward 7, told the AFRO. “We want the stores that we do have to improve their service to us. I am delighted that we have two council members, Vincent Gray and Trayon White, who are working to bring more stores over here.”

Kenner said the grocery store industry is changing. He said that big box stores were once the norm but a few years ago that changed. “People are preferring stores that are closer to them and they want to walk to them and not drive,” Kenner said. “Plus, the home delivery of grocers is growing.”

There have been murmurs among residents that grocery stores shun the East End because the area is predominantly Black but Steele disputes that. “I don’t think this is a racial issue,” he said. “It has more to do with leadership. If the leaders wanted more stores, we would have them but there is a certain way to get them here.”