While new supermarkets continue to crowd New Jersey’s wealthier suburbs, urban areas remain chronically underserved. But thanks to a new state program that will offer low-interest loans to supermarket operators in distressed communities, urban residents may soon be able to buy fresh healthy food at a nearby market.
For years, many of the state’s poorest families had no choice but to shop at small neighborhood food stores that offered few choices for affordable nutritious food. This is often because big market chains are typically centered in higher income areas to take advantage of more profitable specialty items sold in the deli and organic sections.
The new program will be jointly funded with $7 million from the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority and $4 million from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority. An additional $7 million in private funding will come from The Reinvestment Fund, a Philadelphia based investment group which has already invested $116 million for 70 grocery stores across Pennsylvania. The New Jersey program will make the state only the second in the nation behind Pennsylvania to offer financing incentives specifically for supermarkets.
While no sites have yet been selected, Camden, Newark, Paterson, East Orange and New Brunswick are among the cities considered high-priority areas for new food markets to serve low-income families. Not only will new markets offer health benefits to city residents, but they will revitalize and strengthen communities by creating jobs that improve the health of the local economy. Furthermore, supermarkets serve as catalysts for additional economic investment, both residential and commercial.
Many low-income city residents must travel well outside their neighborhoods to purchase food at a large market. While small corner and convenience stores may serve as an alternative, they generally have lower quality and limited fresh food and charge substantially higher prices. This is especially tough on poor families, who must spend a greater proportion of their income on food.
According to a recent study, New Jersey has fewer supermarkets per resident than the national average, with urban areas particularly underserved. Encouraging supermarket operators to build in distressed communities is one way the state can help meet the needs of its poorest neighborhoods.
The Monday Minute is a news Letter from the New Jersey Policy Perspective