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South End Grocery closer to opening in Albany food desert

106 South Pearl Street, Albany NY
Dave Lucas
Site of the coming South End Grocery, 106 South Pearl Street, Albany NY

A new grocery store will open by the end of the year in an Albany food desert.

In 2018, the Rite Aid store at 310 South Pearl Street permanently closed, despite many attempts to save it. The shop served Albany’s South End, a community of mostly low-income residents, including many seniors and people of color. It had offered several amenities: bread, milk and other basic necessities. People could print photos, purchase small electronics and minutes to replenish their cell phones. Then-common councilor Dorcey Applyrs, now city auditor, was among elected officials concerned the area would become a food desert.

"The thought of having to take a bus and travel to get medication or in some cases, Pampers in the middle of night or a can of milk, this has left a lot of people devastated, and I really mean that," said Applyrs.

Officials justified shuttering Rite Aid because the chain was sold to Walgreens, which already operated a nearby store. Nearby if you looked on a map. It was actually a one mile walk or at best a bus ride up a very steep hill from South Pearl.

Applyrs said "Those who made the decision to do this did not think about the community and the people who would be impacted by their decision."

Then, in December 2019, a McDonald’s several doors down that had been a neighborhood fixture for 27 years closed its doors for good. By spring of 2021, plans were in the works to bring a full-service grocery store to the old McDonald’s site. There were hopes the new market would stimulate the neighborhood economy.

A little more than a year later, it looks like the store will soon see the light of day.

Travon Jackson is Executive Director of the African American Cultural Center of the Capital Region, which owns the store.

“So we are currently finishing the interior scope of work as well as getting the roof replaced, now that it's brightened up," Jackson said. "We expect to have a soft walk through of the design concept with our partners on Junetenth. We will have a job fair and job application session that day as well. And then by the end of the year, we'll open with our full time staff.”

Jackson says he's gotten an earful of community input.

“They've been very vocal about what they want need, particularly for dietary alternatives like vegetarian, pescatarian, veganism, and we're working directly with a local farm, Forts Ferry Farm, as well as Capital Roots, to strike a diverse mix of what everyone is asking for, which is by and large, healthier options,” said Jackson.

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.

South End resident and former Common Councilor Dom 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," said Calsolaro.

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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