Grassroots group works to bring grocer to Pittsburg

Faced with the loss of another major grocery store and few other options, a group of Pittsburg residents is working to fill in the gap.

Led by local businessman Wolfgang Croskey, they have launched a Facebook page called “Project Pittsburg Grocery Store” to share ideas about how to replace Food Source. The Highlands Square warehouse grocer, which recently closed after seven years in the city, had replaced Raley’s, a full-service grocer. A few years earlier, a SaveMart had also closed.

Though another warehouse store, FoodsCo, is thriving not far from the defunct Food Source, the city is now left with only a handful of grocers, such as WinCo Foods, Cardenas Market, Island Pacific Supermarket and Safeway, the latter on the border of Bay Point.

“When it comes to buying food, we don’t have a lot of (grocery) options,” Croskey said.

The group’s mission is to appeal to full-service grocers “to make Pittsburg their new home,” member Monica Couture, Pittsburg Chamber of Commerce CEO, said.

Now nearly 800 strong and called “Pittsburg’s Grocers Initiative,” the group isn’t just sitting still hoping to try to attract a store operator. They, along with the chamber and Highlands Square landlord Sierra Pacific Properties, recently held a widely attended block party in front of the old store to show potential grocers the city’s spirit. Pittsburg High School’s marching band, cheer squad, police, firefighters and a slew of entertainers rallied to support a new grocer and star in a video to give potential store operators.

“We don’t look the best on a demographic spread sheet, so we are trying to show them, ‘We are Pittsburg,’ and we’d love to have a full-service grocery store here,” Croskey said of the reports potential retailers look at to gauge if a community can support a business.

“It’s a grassroots community effort,” Couture added. “It takes a village — no one person can make it happen. We wanted to show potential retailers how much support there was and what a tight-knit community we have.”

Some, however, think that the village should be working on forming its own food cooperative in the community. When Councilman Holland Barrett White learned Food Source was leaving, he began exploring whether a food co-op model might work in Pittsburg.

“The community, from what I have learned, is very disheartened,” White said. “It’s not the same grocery stores here that you would find in Walnut Creek or Brentwood. A lot of people travel to those cities because some of the stores here don’t have an inviting, welcoming feel to them.”

A recent Pittsburg economic opportunity study found residents spend some $70 million in food and beverages outside of the city each year, the councilman said. The USDA also identified a number of areas of the city as being “food deserts,” meaning access to healthy food was not nearby.

“We need to see what we can do to intervene as a city,” said White, who had asked the city to fund an economic feasibility study, though it died for lack of support at a recent council meeting.

“Until you study something, you don’t know,” he said while noting he’s also supportive of the Pittsburg Grocers Initiative’s efforts.

“We care about the health of our community,” he said. “What this is doing is starting the conversation.”

White and others are regrouping now to do outreach and get other stakeholders on board with the idea of forming a food co-op, he said.

“We need to identify some key stakeholders and nonprofits, to help mobilize a community group to understand what the positives would be and how we move forward,” White said.

The co-op model requires community participation, including residents purchasing equity shares, White said.

City Manager Garrett Evans noted that the startup of a co-op takes a different track than a traditional grocery store, sometimes between three to five years, depending on community involvement.

“I think this is just a fundamentally different way of doing business,” White added, noting that the community members would have more say in the quality of the food and a share in the profits with a co-op.”

Another supporter, resident Karen Lewis, said she sees Food Source’s departure as an opportunity for the community to do “something really amazing” by starting up its own grocery store.

“I appreciate all the efforts that have gone into bringing in a more traditional grocery store because we need one and I’m on board with that too,” she said. “But grocers like Whole Foods, Trader Joes, think we don’t fit the (economic) demographic.”

A better answer, she said, is for the community its own food co-op.

“What if we could have exactly what we wanted here,” she said. “If you look at the culture, and the diversity that is here, you see that the need is greater than simply Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.”

A co-op would allow a variety of healthy foods, with profits going back to the community, to lower prices and educate consumers, she said.

“I would like to work on taking care of ourselves rather than begging other people to save us.”

Croskey said he is not opposed to a co-op but thinks attracting a new grocer will be quicker.

“Having a grocery store is more than just food — if we can’t attract one, it is going to be hard to grow the Pitsburg economy.”

Source: mercurynews
Grassroots group works to bring grocer to Pittsburg