TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - If you live in central Topeka, you know all too well that grocery stores in this part of town are few and far between.
With the exception of Tilton’s Westside Market at S.W. 6th Avenue and Clay, they’re practically non-existent.
Ever since the Dillons store at 1400 S.W. Huntoon closed in February 2016, efforts have been made to find another business to pick up the slack.
But so far, nothing has materialized.
That area has been identified as a food desert.
The Central Topeka Grocery Oasis group, composed of concerned residents from several neighborhoods, has been working since March 2018 to find a solution.
The group conducted a survey several years ago to find out what central Topeka residents needed in a grocery store, said Michael Bell, a member of the group.
“We knew from the survey that was done pretty much right after the Dillons closed in 2016 what folks were thinking at that point,” Bell said. “So we thought we’d need an update.”
With assistance from the city’s Division of Community Engagement, the Central Topeka Grocery Oasis mailed a questionnaire this past week to more than 4,000 residents in several central Topeka neighborhoods to find out what they are looking for in a new food store.
The cost for the mailer, which was just a little over $2,000, was paid by the city’s Division of Community Engagement.
Bell said people already are turning in their responses on the questionnaire’s postage-paid cards.
“We’ll learn a lot from their responses,” Bell said, “about the type of grocery store that they would want to have.”
Neighborhoods receiving the cards included Ward-Meade, Old Town, Tennessee Town, Holliday Park, Elmhurst, Central Park, Monroe, Chesney Park and Quinton Heights-Steele.
With a few exceptions, boundaries for the food desert are roughly between Interstate 70 on the north, S.W. MacVicar Avenue on the west, S.W. 27th on the south and S.W. Topeka Boulevard on the east.
Many of the areas covered by the survey -- and that are located in the food desert -- are in “low-to-moderate income neighborhoods in central Topeka,” Bell said, “and that’s going to be the primary clientele for the new store.”
Bell added that “60 percent of Topeka is a food desert, and so there are people across the city who have the same challenges that we do.”
Marge Ahrens, the Central Topeka Grocery Oasis group’s president, said the organization is “zeroing in” on possible locations for a new store.
“We’re not looking for a huge store,” Ahrens said. “We’re looking for about 14,000-square-feet, and we’re looking for a store with banking services.”
Ahrens added that the group is “trying to get a clearer idea of what people need. We are moving forward.”
Marc Galbraith, another member of the Central Topeka Grocery Oasis group, said the grassroots organization is actively looking to other organizations for expertise and guidance.
“We’ve also been busy trying to learn things we don’t know,” Galbraith said. “There are lots of things we don’t know, and so we’ve been visiting with groups like the co-op out of Lawrence and others, and we’ll continue to do that.
“We’ll talk to others who’ve been through a process like this and so we can learn some of those things we don’t know and so we don’t make mistakes, hopefully, going forward.”
The questionnaire, sent in the form of a postage-paid return card, was mailed to 4,138 recipients at a cost of $2,061.68, according to Monique Glaude, director of the city’s Division of Community Engagement.
Glaude said the Division of Community Engagement took part in multiple meetings in 2016 and forwarded a letter to neighborhood leaders on behalf of the Central Topeka Grocery Oasis group.
Additionally, Glaude said, the city’s Division of Community Engagement participated in a neighborhood “walk-and-talk” event in which neighbors were surveyed with similar questions to the postcard that was mailed this week.
Additionally, the Division of Community Engagement provided survey training for all participants.
At that time, Glaude said, it was decided that the Division of Community Engagement would assist in a one-time mailing, which took place this past week.
The Central Topeka Grocery Oasis group will take information from the mailer and share it with city leaders.
Group members say they are “shopping” for a grocery store that would be willing to locate in central Topeka and serve residents living in the food desert.
They say they also believe they are getting closer to seeing a full-service grocery store back in central Topeka where it can serve the needs of local residents.
See the WIBW story here: https://www.wibw.com/2021/01/28/central-topeka-grocery-oasis-group-sends-survey-to-local-residents/