The Smart Saver grocery store at NE 23rd Street and Martin Luther King Avenue will close at the end of the day Monday.
It is the only large, full-service grocery store in the area bounded by I-40, I-35, I-44, and I-235, the area traditionally thought of as the “east side” of the city.
Free Press learned of the move when employees told customers of the planned closing after a company meeting Tuesday.
Employees and management at the store have confirmed the information, but corporate representatives have not responded to requests for confirmation or information.
The move will contribute further to the area being a food desert because of shrinking availability of fresh foods.
There are other smaller neighborhood markets scattered in the area with much more limited inventory, similar to large convenience stores.
No rebuilding plans
No plans have been announced for any replacement or further use for the property.
When we told customer Benny Pollard the news Wednesday, his immediate response was “Good riddance!” He thinks the building is worn out and an eyesore and assumed that there would be a new store built to replace it. He was surprised to find that there weren’t any plans being talked about that day.
Bobby Moore, another customer, told us that when there was segregation and then in the years right after it the east side was “self-sufficient.”
“But, now, naw. We’re going to have to drive out of this area to find anything,” Moore said.
When the store closes, it will be the last grocery on the east side that offers a large inventory, deli foods and a full range of fresh items.
The area has already been termed a “food desert” because the only grocery items are what might be found at convenience stores and discount chains that deal in canned or package good only.
The closest full-service grocery stores after Monday will be in Del City, NW 18th and Classen, or NW 23rd and Pennsylvania.
For those who have their own auto transportation the trip may not seem significant.
But, for the elderly and those who can only afford to walk, bike, or ride transit, the trip to the closest full-service grocery will be daunting.
Driving to Del City will involve crossing major streets and intersections over miles of urban traffic.
By car, the one-way trip to NW 23rd and Penn from NE 23rd and MLK would be only 15 minutes. But, for the elderly or those not used to navigating heavy urban auto traffic, plowing through that part of 23rd Street is an exercise in urban survival.
By way of transit, the trip one-way would be around 50 minutes making one transfer between bus lines.
Biking the route one way would be around 30 minutes.
And, walking it would be about 1.5 hours one way.
Much talk, little action
Over the last decade there have been surges of talk circulated by real estate speculators and a politician, since discredited, that the area was on the cusp of new development at the intersection.
Each time statements have implied that big developments were just about to happen.
But, to date, the same building has been used by several discount groceries, even though the Smart Saver, a part of the larger Buy for Less corporation, has made an effort to serve the area.
Tuesday, employees were officially notified of the store’s Monday closing.
“That’s cold,” a customer told Free Press outside the store Wednesday. “It’s very cruel for those employees.”
But, employees we talked to, with an agreement to keep their names out of this story to protect their employment, told us that the company plans to transfer employees to other Buy for Less or subsidiary stores in the metro.
Requests for comment from Buy for Less corporate officials were not answered.
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