FROM DESERT TO OASIS
The resurgence of a full-service grocery store in Central Topeka.
How to: return a grocery store to central topeka
Neighbors who organized in March 2018 as The Central Topeka Grocery Oasis (CTGO) Group seek to restore a sense of food security and community to the nine core neighborhoods of Central Topeka by building a new grocery store to replace the one that closed in 2016. About 12,000 Central Topekans would be respected and valued by removing food insecurity in this lower-income area where 30 percent of households fall below the federal poverty level and more than a third have less than $25,000 income. Almost half are people of color, many are elderly, and the area is home to about 900 veterans. Few have bank accounts or credit cards. Nearly half lack internet service. Fully 32 percent of these residents have one or more disabled persons in their homes and about 25 percent don't have access to a vehicle. Bus service is limited, costly for some, and few groceries can be transported by bus. A new store could provide healthy food within walking distance for many. Employees of nearby businesses, hospitals, churches, schools, Washburn University, and workers in transit also would be served.
Central Topeka was home to a grocery store for 89 years until the community grocery closed in 2016. A new store—14,000 square feet—would serve the needs of a culturally diverse, low-to moderate-income population, by providing access to affordable, healthy foods like fresh produce and meats, and include local produce as available. The new store will recognize and respect WIC, SNAP and other lower-income food programs, and offer community engagement. Serving Topekans from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, the store also will employ them while utilizing environmentally-safe and energy-saving infrastructure and equipment to further increase savings for the operator and customers.
GraceMed Capitol Health Clinic is leasing one acre of land at 12th and Washburn streets north of their clinic for the proposed store. Our Dakota Worldwide market studies, made possible by a $12,500 grant from the Kansas Health Foundation, show that a new store at that location is economically desirable and sustainable.
The Topeka community and region continues to generously support the CTGO Group’s efforts to make the dream of a new community grocery store become a reality. The largest grant to date was awarded Nov. 15, 2022, when the City of Topeka American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) granted $628,000 to the CTGO Group to purchase economically- and environmentallysustainable refrigeration equipment for the store. GraceMed Capitol Clinic is leasing an acre of land north of the clinic to the CTGO Group as a building site. At present, work is in progress to create a formal business plan and begin preliminary design work by an architectural firm.
Without fresh fruit, vegetables or meat sources within one mile for most Central Topeka residents, the area fits the federal definition of a "food desert," where people have a higher risk of diet-related chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes, as well as cancer, according to the CDC. Providing access to fresh, nourishing, affordable food is known to increase well-being and improve health outcomes. We hope to bring about equity and social justice and reduce the cost and effort of procuring food for those often denied these essentials. The grocery is intended to be a meeting place for residents and provide needed banking, postal and utility payment services, all within walking distance for many. We hope our project also pays it forward by providing a template for other areas of Topeka to embark on their own food insecurity issues.
Important factors related to a central topeka grocery store
1. The store is to be designed to serve the needs of culturally diverse low/moderate persons in Central Topeka neighborhoods for access to affordable healthy foods: fresh fruits, vegetables and meats. It will also make fresh groceries available to nearby businesses, hospitals, churches, schools, Washburn University and workers in transit.
2. The recommended store size is between 10,000-14,000 square feet.
3. The store will accept SNAP and WIC.
4. The store will require an experienced grocer in order to succeed. This factor does not preclude entrepreneurial involvement.
5. The store will offer community engagement. It will provide opportunities for purchasing money orders, for check cashing, and for making utility payments and securing postal services.
6. The store can be built with grants/donations and local bonds. These offer the lowest upfront cost for a grocer, potential for a low lease fee, and freedom from debt-- all savings which can be passed on to shoppers.
7. With the availability of solar or wind as a source of electricity, the use of energy saving equipment, and practices that conserve packaging and use fruits and vegetables in the preparation of meals for sale, the store has the best opportunity to sustain itself.
8. The cost of construction relating to tear down versus a "clean" site is an important financial consideration that could affect the cost of groceries and the sustainability of the store.
9. The store should be aesthetically pleasing and designed for safety, security and flexibility in a post-COVID world.
10. The store must be easily accessible and will provide options for pick up and delivery.
11. The store will provide training and a living wage to the manager and employees.
12. The store will be a catalyst in the resurgence of community and dignity for our neighbors.
13. We wish for the store to provide a blueprint for other Topeka areas where low income and poor access to healthy foods dominate the character and health inequities of neighborhoods.