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Developer plans South Side grocery

May 9th, 2017

By Doug LeDuc | Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly

Residents on the south side of Fort Wayne, who believe the area is saturated with many mini marts, have convinced a developer to put a grocery store there instead of a convenience store.

Virk Brothers LLC is dropping its plans for a mini mart in the area and is now “working on a conceptual plan for a grocery store layout for the property,” said Thomas Niezer, an attorney representing Virk Brothers.

The company previously planned a 9,000-square-foot building for retailing along with a 4,000-square-foot mini mart and a 2,400-square-foot gasoline pump island at the northwest corner of South Anthony Boulevard and East Pontiac Street.

The developer is making the change because the developer believes the store will attract enough grocery shoppers that it will need the space it previously had in mind for the mini mart for additional vehicle parking, he said.

Development plans for the South Anthony project and a separate convenience store project at 3140 E. Paulding Road ran into opposition last month from residents of those neighborhoods at a Fort Wayne Plan Commission meeting, which was to include public hearings on them.

The hearings were rescheduled for May 8 to give developers time to win over the opposition.Virk Brothers hopes to reschedule its hearing for June so the company can work on plans for the grocery store.

As of May 2, plan commission officials had not heard from Kaufmann LLC. on whether the Paulding project developer might seek more time before a hearing. The Paulding project proposed to put a 3,823-square-feet convenience store in an old Wells Fargo Bank building, to which it would attach new buildings of 3,900 square feet and 990 square feet.

Too many mini marts

Some residents of neighborhoods affected by the retailing plans have complained to Glen Hines, who represents their district on the Fort Wayne City Council, that the area is over saturated with convenience stores.

In addition to gas stations at a Kroger store and Walmart store, there are 20 gas stations at convenience stores, for a total of 22 within the sixth district boundaries, Hines said.

A typical convenience store in the district contributes to its food desert problem because it “doesn’t even sell fresh fruit, fresh produce or fresh meats,” Hines said. “They don’t sell those products, and then they sell the bread and milk at exorbitant high prices.”

About 150 residents of potentially affected neighborhoods attended the April plan commission meeting to air grievances about how convenience stores engage in predatory pricing and don’t hire enough store employees from the communities they serve, he said.

Residents of neighborhoods where the new convenience stores would be located “felt very strongly that just enough’s enough,” Hines said.

Food desert

“The food desert part of it is there’s not enough grocery stores in the sixth district,” he said. “We’re pushing to try to get a grocery store so you can get fresh fruits and vegetables and things of that nature, which you can’t get today.”

Allen County has 17 census tracts identified as food deserts. The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines a food desert as a low-income census tract where a significant number or share of residents live more than a mile away from the nearest supermarket if they are urban dwellers, or more than 10 miles away if they live in a rural setting.

The USDA tracks access to affordable and healthful foods such as fruits and vegetables because factors such as their price and the travel time required to buy them can affect consumer nutrition choices unfavorably.

With a population of about 363,000, about 13 percent of Allen County’s population, or about 46,000, are living in food deserts. Much of that population lives in the sixth district.

Virk Brothers believes its new grocery store will help address the problem, Niezer said.

“This developer owns over 20 stores and they’re mostly convenience stores, but there is purchasing power it can bring to bear to make sure its pricing is competitive for this proposed grocery store,” he said. “It is bringing something to the south side of Fort Wayne that downtown Fort Wayne doesn’t even have. I think downtown Fort Wayne would be ecstatic if it had a 9,000-square-foot grocery store.”

Most supermarkets have gas pump islands because they help drive traffic to the location, and the new grocery store would have one as well, he said.

But the gas station count in the sixth district is comparable to that of other parts of Fort Wayne, and what residents of the Pontiac neighborhood really want is a viable grocery store alternative to Walmart and Kroger, he said.