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Mayor discusses grocery, retail gap

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Crawfordsville Mayor Todd Barton regularly conducts a monthly public forum to meet with concerned citizens of the community to address and discuss their needs wherever possible.

Perhaps no need is more apparent in Crawfordsville than the food desert for which Montgomery County has become known. Barton discussed the growing issue with a small group of area residents Wednesday on the fourth floor at Fusion 54.

Two full-service grocery outlets for a county whose residents number some 40,000 is not enough, and retailers have not been attracted to the area due to some outdated information, Barton said, citing a recent retail gap analysis study performed by the city.

New, updated data has now made its way to the desks of Barton and other economic development boards, of which he plans to make use immediately.

“This new data is really going to help us. It’s really good. I’m very optimistic,” Barton said. “It’s going to convince those retailers to make decisions to come here, where now they’re not interested.”

The mayor explained that retailers have been using data compiled nearly three years ago when the east side Kroger and County Market were still open. Furthermore, the recent uptick in dollar stores where residents can get a handful of their daily items — but not all — have played a role in the Kroger and County Market closings.

“If people are going there and buying their bread and their milk, then they don’t go to the grocery store. That was a factor in that Kroger closing, there’s no doubt about it,” he said.

The importance of full-service grocery outlets, compared to dollar stores, could be best exemplified by the types of goods they sell. The lack of healthier options, for example, has been on the mind of Alexis Rogers who recently moved to the area from Alabama.

She said while she may have a better grasp on online shopping, and the ability to travel to other cities, puts her ahead of many others, especially the elderly population. Barton acknowledged Crawfordsville has become a bit of a retirement destination rather than retaining the area’s young people — another issue he addressed Wednesday.

“One of the main things for me is just not having other options. That would be nice,” Rogers said. “We need fresh produce and more healthier options. That’s my biggest concern. I’m able to go to Indianapolis or Lafayette, but other people can’t.”

Traveling to other cities for groceries is just one way Montgomery County residents’ dollars are not staying in the community.

“It basically shows how many millions of dollars can’t be spent here,” Barton said. “If you look at the data now, you’ll see there’s a big gap there. So now we put it in terms for [retailers] so that it’s in their lingo. I’ve already met with one developer, and I’ve got meetings next week with grocery chains and other developers. The biggest trade conference for that is next week, so I’ll be there pounding the pavement.”

Barton has also been in talks with Kroger concerning the south side location, calling it “unacceptable.”

Retailers often look at a number of factors when making decisions to set up new locations, including population, density and distance traveled. Current radius standards for larger cities cannot be applied to Montgomery County where residents of Wingate, for example, travel 15 miles or more to get their groceries.

“That might make sense in maybe a more urban area — two and a half miles is a long distance in Indianapolis, but two and a half miles here is not,” Barton said. “We know where our customers are coming from; they’re coming from west and south and a little bit north, so you can’t just look at the population of Crawfordsville.”

For more information about food deserts, visit www.ers.usda.gov.

The mayor meets monthly with the public at various locations and times. To learn more, visit the city’s website at www.crawfordsville.net or listen to Barton on the city’s podcast called Crawfordsville Connections, available on the App Store or Google Play.º

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