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Ward 7 Councilwoman Nikki Nice is pushing more investment from community members in the northeast quadrant of Oklahoma City in the face of what she says is “history repeating itself.”

When the Smart Saver grocery store at NE 23rd and Martin Luther King Avenue closes at the end of Monday, there will be no full-service grocery stores in the area bounded by I-44, I-35, I-40 and I-235, traditionally referred to by residents as “the east side.”

The area has been predominantly black since the early 1970s.

History repeating itself

For Nice, the closure of the grocery store is symbolic of something bigger.

“The important piece of it is history – history repeating itself,” Nice told Free Press Sunday after the first Ward 7 Block Party she helped organize.

“You see more urban communities receiving less [when it comes to] school closings and in gentrification, as some people have called it.”

Nikki Nice
Nikki Nice (R), Ward 7 Councilwoman, poses for a photo Tylicee Brown, resident of the ward at the Ward 7 Block Party Aug 4, 2019. Brett Dickerson/Okla City Free Press

And, even though many in the community have contacted her and urged the city to do something, she points to a key reality.

The community has to face the fact that the Smart Saver store at NE 23rd Street and Martin Luther King Avenue is private property, she said.

“We can’t tell a business entity, a private business what to do with their property,” Nice said.

Investment

Nice is pushing more investment of all sorts by the residents of the traditional east side instead of being dependent on those who live outside of the community.

She sponsored a town hall at Fairview Baptist Church July 29 to inform residents of the investment opportunities that are coming to the oldest part of the east side with opportunity zones being created.

Her approach was to focus on the possibilities for community members to create their own projects in the area and approach investors with the ideas even if they might not have the money for investment themselves.

Northeast Oklahoma City residents listen intently as presenters relay information about how opportunity zones work at a town hall July 29. Brett Dickerson/Okla City Free Press

It was a positive meeting meant to show community members solutions to the problem of gentrification where community members lose control of large-scale development in their own community and are eventually pushed out.

Both owners of Smart Saver were at the town hall Monday but said nothing to Nice or several other community leaders. Within 24 hours Smart Saver managers were telling their employees that the store would close on Monday and they would be transferred to other Buy for Less affiliated stores in the metro.

Free Press broke the story of the the closing Wednesday afternoon after sources in the community gave us tips about the closing.

“Educational moment”

Nice thinks the abrupt closure of Smart Saver by its owners who live elsewhere in the metro signals a need for change in approach by community members.

“This is also an educational moment for our community to realize that this is why we must be vested in investing in our community,” Nice told Free Press.

“Because we have to be the ones to make sure we’re taking care of each other. We can’t depend on others outside of our community because their commitment is to themselves and to their bottom dollar.”

Immediate needs

For now, Nice and task force members are responding to the immediate needs of the community by organizing special transportation to full-service grocery stores.

She said the service will be focused on the elderly and people with small children.

Local churches and EMBARK, the metro’s mass transit system, will provide rides to and from the grocery stores from the parking lot the Smart Saver shares with other businesses in the small shopping center.

For more information about free transportation to full grocery stores starting Monday, go to Northeast OKC Food website transportation page.



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