Sarah Flieder has lived in central Topeka for the past six years and used to have easy access to groceries. That was before the Dillons store near her house closed in 2016.
"The closest place now is the Dollar General on 10th street," she said. "That is quite a bit of a walk."
Flieder and other Topekans in the area could have some relief if the Central Topeka Grocery Oasis Group has its way.
The group, which has advocated for central Topeka's grocery store needs in recent years, is working with GraceMed to try to build a store next to its building at S.W. 12th Street and Washburn Avenue.
Venus Lee, CEO of GraceMed, said the organization is still early in the planning process.
"Central Topeka Grocery Oasis Group and/or the grocery store owners would be responsible for building the facility on what is now our property," she said. "That is also up for negotiations, whether we lease or sell it."
The effort to get a grocery store in that area is years in the making after a Dillons store on 1400 S.W. Huntoon Ave. closed in 2016.
Marge Ahrens, chairwoman of the Central Topeka Grocery Oasis group, said Wednesday that no grocer has been selected. The group is discussing an agreement with GraceMed and will work with the city on planning and zoning.
Ahrens told The Topeka Capital-Journal that she knows people who have access to multiple major grocery stores near Wanamaker and hopes all parts of town can have that type of access.
“There are no places to get groceries,” Ahrens said. “For persons in our neighborhoods, it becomes very serious.”
Council member Hannah Naeger said the eastern border of District 6 was hit hard after the grocery store closed. She said access to fresh produce is lacking.
Fresh produce is also a priority for the grocery oasis group. They want to provide fresh food that is healthier than items found at convenience stores and fast food restaurants.
Council member Karen Hiller said the Dillons that closed years ago provided full-range groceries, a pharmacy, the ability to make utility payments and other “service desk” types of service. She said it had easy access to bus routes and even served as a social center for the community.
Downtown Topeka also wants grocery store
A draft of the city’s Downtown Master Plan includes locations for a grocery store, which was one of the most requested amenities in future development.
A downtown Master Plan survey found that 36.5% of survey respondents want a grocery option.
Michael Bell, board member of the Central Topeka Grocery Oasis Group, said about 60% of Topeka is a food desert. He said the needs of downtown Topekans and the needs of central Topekans aren’t the same.
He said the areas are demographically different and a downtown grocery store would still have transportation issues for central Topekans.
Bell said he wishes the city had intervened to build one in the core of Topeka. Naeger said it has been a long process to add the downtown grocery store to its master plan.
“Even if we are able to get our central Topeka grocery store up and running, and even if there is a downtown grocery store," Bell said, "there is still a lack of service in the northern parts of East Topeka.”