I’m reading this article about the Newark, New Jersey’s troubles over the past couple decades, and I come upon this paragraph:
Now, according to Wikipedia, Newark’s population was probably somewhere around 300,000 in the mid-80’s. (It was 329,248 in 1980, and 275,221 in 1990.) Suppose we guess that those population numbers include the metropolitan area, but the article is only talking about within the city limits. (I don’t see any indication of that, but let’s be generous here.) And if that’s true, let’s divide the population in half and say that central Newark had a population of about 150,000 people. Even then, is it remotely plausible that there could be only one supermarket for 150,000 people?? I can buy the fact that there were no movie theaters, though even that is rather incredible. But one supermarket? I live in a town of about 20,000 people, and we have five supermarkets to choose from.
I realize, of course, that the implication is not that all 150,000 (or even 300,000!) of those people bought all their food from one store – there were probably little corner groceries or convenience stores where people got their food. But still, is there some way we can fact check this? Anyone here live in Newark in the '80s?
I lived in Newark three years ago, but I wasn’t there in the 80s.
That figure is kind of hard to believe, but not implausible. Now, the supermarkets that I would go to in Newark tended to be pretty crappy (narrow aisles, dirty produce, lots of generic and obscure name brands, no on-site bakeries, etc.), but they existed. There was a Foodtown behind my apartment building, in a small strip mall. Foodtowns in other places were bigger and nicer, but this Foodtown was pretty sad (it sold good Portugese rolls, though). It didn’t look like it was all that new, but maybe things age really fast in northern NJ. (When I got a car, I started shopping in nearby South Orange, where the stores were at least bigger).
On my way to work in the morning, I would drive down South Orange Ave and pass by two storefront C-Towns. Are they supermarkets? I don’t know. I mean, you could buy meat and produce and bread there, but you probably wouldn’t want to. I remember seeing hand-written signs taped on the windows that would list “Welfare Combination Specials”, always some unholy list of white bread, boloney, milk, cheese, beans, pounds of cheap hamburger meat, and some other “poor people’s” food items that were supposed to feed a family of four for a month. Few fresh fruits and vegetables would be offered. Lots of people would go to these places not only because of these deals, but because they were accessible to public transit. I don’t think someone accostomed to shopping at Krogers, Shoprite, Publix, or Winn Dixie would consider C-Town to be a real supermarket, but Newark definitely has more C-Towns (and places like C-Town) than it does those other stores.
There’s a Pathmark now in downtown, across from the hospital, but I think that’s pretty new. And it’s the only Pathmark in Newark that I can think of right now.
I’m sure this is not uncommon in mid-size north-eastern cities where the suburbs are prosperous and the inner cities are in decay. When I was living in Rochester, NY in the 1990s, the two major grocery chains (Wegmans and Topps) closed all of their super markets in the city while they were opening bigger ones out in the suburbs. A couple have since returned, but it was a combination of the declning neighborhoods and the trend towards larger stores that caused the change. For a significant portion of the urban population, the choice was to shop in the suburbs or shop at the little bodegas.
Maybe they’re defining “supermarket” as having a certain number of square feet. Besides that big Fairway that was built under the highway, I don’t think all of New York City has a single suburban-sized supermarket north of 125th Street. I can think of a few sad little C-Towns. If this is the case, I’m sure the assertion is correct. I don’t think Jersey City (almost as big as Newark) has any supermarkets but C-Towns outside of the ones in newish stripmalls – it wouldn’t surprise me if there were none in the late 70s and 80s.
1.) I find this hard to believe. It’s been ages since I’ve been to Newark, but I don’t buy it. Pepper Mill was still living in NJ in 1986, and she doesn’t believe it either.
I don’t believe this, either. I’d left Rochester by then, but they still had the Wegman’s in the shopping center downtown open every time I visited. And I find it hard to believe they closed the ones in Rochester proper but outside City Center – those parts of Rochester weren’t hurting, and they wouldn’t close down something making money.
Well, they may be using the strict definition of “supermarket”. Many urban cities have small grocery stores where people can buy food and toiletries. For example, in Washington D.C., where I live, there are only about 20 or so “supermarkets”. My cursory search indicates that there are 6 Giant’s, 8 Safeway’s, 3 Whole Foods, and 1 Trader Joe’s. So around 20 "supermarkets for a city of about 600,000 people. Washington DC is a pretty affluent area, so I can imagine a shithole like Newark having one true supermarket.
At one point Tops had closed all of its locations within the city, althiugh they have since built two new stores after receviing subsidies from the city to do so. See this article, which discusses the Tops/City alliance and the exodus of Wegmans.
I can’t believe that Rochester is the only city that has seen this phenomenon.
1986? 1986 was an eon ago in retail terms. We’re literally generations of businesses distant from 1986.
The store on East Avenue in Rochester has always been a Wegmans. It’s going to expand, too, as soon as they get the last holdout to sell.
But that’s the last Wegman’s in Rochester and there will never be another. They just closed down the Driving Park Avenue store. It was the smallest one in the chain and it was losing customers.
Tops has two stores in the city that I know of. The parent company has been hurting for a long time and I doubt if they will ever expand. That 2004 article about Tops’ expansion was the last anyone ever heard of it.
Two of the three stores, one Tops and one Wegmans, are in the comparatively well-off southeastern quadrant, almost at the city line and about a half-mile from one another. They were never closed down and reopened. Tops has always had at least one store in the city open, to my knowledge.
It’s not about making money. It’s about making the best return on investment. Wegman’s never said that the Driving Park store it just closed was losing money. It just wasn’t making enough.
Suburban stores can make ten to fifty times as much money as a small inner city store like the one on Driving Park. So I can completely believe that all the stores in a northeastern city can close. Why keep them open when you can put the same effort into a giant suburban store and get so much more out of it? Like it or not, supermarkets are businesses, not charities, even though cities would love to see them act that way.
Supposedly, there’s only one supermarket in the city of Detroit.
I’m surprised to hear that there’s so few supermarkets in Rochester. There’s still quite a few supermarkets in the Buffalo city limits, although there’s very few in predominantly minority or transitional neighborhoods on the East Side.
One problem with urban supermarkets is space; in more prosperous urban neighborhoods, it’s difficult to find a site to build an 80,000 square foot supermarket, let alone a 150,000 square foot Wegmans, along with a parking lot, loading docks, stormwater detention area, and so on. The 20,000 square foot building that might have housed an Acme in the 1960s won’t work for Kroger, Tops, Giant Eagle or whatever today. If a 1960s-era supermarket building got reoccupied by another use, like … oh, a thrift store or large bookstore, an independent grocer can’t use the building to fill a void in the market.
It has to be a matter of the definition of “supermarket”. High density areas, particularly high density areas with poor demographics (Newark), retail food out of businesses that would really stretch the definition of “supermarket”. For instance, what would be considered a supermarket by the local residents in a high demographic area of Manhattan would pale in comparison to what you would find in a typical rural town of 2000 people that had a chain supermarket. The quality, the exotic selection and the prices would be higher in Manhattan but the square footage, and the overall product selection would much less.
Now if you were to use the term “food retailer” you would find that places with high population density would have many times the number of outlets than less populated areas on a per capita basis. I can point to an intersection of Manhattan where there are delis selling groceries on three of the four corners but all three combined wouldn’t come close to the definition of one typical supermarket.
That would be even more shocking, if true – Detroit has almost 900,000 people (according to Wikipedia)!!! Why not take over one of those abandoned buildings and start a Winn-Dixie? Surely the startup cost couldn’t be that expensive – there were houses in Detroit that recently sold for only a couple thousand bucks each!
I think you’re exactly right. I live in Jersey City, and I do most of my shopping at small bodegas, only going to the large ShopRite (in a newish stripmall) for stuff we can’t get elsewhere. Living in a city, especially without a car, supermarkets don’t make as much sense. I know I can’t buy that much stuff in one go because I either have to carry it or push it in a smallish, crappy cart that I then have to haul up stairs to my apartment. I think judging the crappiness of a large urban center in the Northeast by the number of supermarkets is a poor way of doing it; it’s just not the way they’re set up.
Supermarkets are definitely rare in the downtowns of cities. I know, for instance, the Schenectady (population 60,000) currently only has one supermarket within the city limits (not counting an Aldi, but that probably doesn’t have enough square footage).
It’s a matter of size: it’s hard to find land cheap enough to build a big supermarket, especially since profit margins are so small. Even older buildings find their taxes are so high that the aren’t able to provide much of an advantage over the neighborhood grocery. And in low-income areas, shoplifting also adds to the cost.
Population has nothing to do with. It’s the demographics of those living within a certain radius, combined with the ability to get there by car - rather than by bus or taxi, the costs involved for security, and the competition from better situated stores. The economics of inner city supermarkets make them extinct. Remember that supermarkets don’t make money selling food. Or, to be more exact, those long aisles of products have a very low profit margin. All the big money in supermarkets comes from the ready-to-eat foods, the sushi case, the specialty bakery, the housewares department, the Godiva chocolate shop, and the million other high ticket items that surround the basic foods in the middle. Those are the hardest things to add to an inner city store. Basic land costs and taxes usually make it harder to build a large enough store in the first place, and the demographics of the customers won’t support them. That’s why all the smaller supermarkets are being taken offline, so to speak. Not that they don’t make money, but that their profit margin is far lower than what is acceptable.
They’re the same as downtown department stores. Rochester, Syracuse and Buffalo have zero combined downtown department stores. They’ve all moved to the suburbs. That’s where the demographics are and so that’s where the money is.