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New Effort To Open A Grocery Store In Albany’s South End

Plans are in the works to bring a full-service grocery store to Albany's South End. One by one, stores that sold staples like bread, milk and eggs have shuttered in the South End community, which has created a food desert.

Travon Jackson is president of Blue Light Development Group representing the African American Cultural Center of the Capital Region

"The Rite Aid left the neighborhood and then the Walgreens more recently, as well as the Golden Fried Chicken and some other restaurants. And then, of course, the McDonald's. So in the course of two years, we lost, you know, anywhere from four to eight establishments from the same corridor. And it's put a lot of undue stress on the smaller bodegas and medium sized grocery, that can't really afford to carry that diversity of our product range. So moving into that McDonald's site, and developing it the way we're thinking is a good solution to that."

The African American Cultural Center of the Capital Region, which runs a small convenience store on South Pearl Street, plans to open a full-service grocery store at the former McDonald's at 106 South Pearl Street. Former common councilor Dom Calsolaro says the restaurant created a void after leaving downtown in December 2019 when its lease with the Albany Housing Authority expired.

Dom Calsolaro
Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
Dom Calsolaro, speaking at a press conference in December 2013.

"The South End is what they call a food desert. You don't have fresh vegetables and fruits in most of the little tiny corner stores that we do have. Most of them, you know they make, they're making income basically on milk and beer and lottery sales, not selling, you know, good food. We've been trying for years to get a grocery store back into the South End again. From what I've heard, I've already been on some meetings, Zoom meetings on this, people are very excited about this. And it can only be a huge plus for the South End for the Mansion Neighborhood and the adjacent neighborhoods around it that do not have a place where they can even walk to get fresh fruit and vegetables."

Jackson expects to close on the property in July. A coalition comprised of the African American Cultural Center of the Capital Region, Albany County, Downtown Albany Business Improvement District and BlueLight Development Group plans to develop wholesale storage and distribution space along a half-mile stretch of the South Pearl Street corridor that will be used to supply the grocery store while providing affordable wholesale storage to small businesses.

"We're currently under contract, and we have submitted all our necessary documents to planning, who's given their approval. And with the amount of work that we're doing, we expect a opening roughly in September to October."

Jackson says the grocery store will stock fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, dairy, gluten-free and vegetarian products, kitchen supplies and hygiene essentials. Educational programs will also be provided and the site will offer a variety of public health outreach and pharmaceutical needs in collaboration with the county.

Calsolaro hopes the new market will stimulate the neighborhood economy.

"It's really going to be an improvement for our area. And hopefully it would attract other investments for other types of businesses that we are lacking in our area."

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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