It was announced today that the Food Lion grocery store on Bedford Avenue in Lynchburg is closing within thirty days. This is a major blow to the people in the Rivermont and Daniels Hill neighborhoods—especially those with limited incomes—many of whom depend on this store as the only grocery store within walking distance of their homes.
I’m no Occupy Wall Streeter—not by a long shot. But that Food Lion store could be a case study in how capitalism contributes to the perpetuation of poverty in poor neighborhoods. For middle class, suburban and small town America there is little appreciation of how circumstances often conspire to keep the poor…poor. I’m not suggesting the existence of an intentional plot hatched in the executive boardroom of some Manhattan high-rise. But I am suggesting that the laws of the market place—the laws of profit margins, cost and risk analysis, etc. mindlessly work against the interests of poor people in depressed communities. From the perspective of a suburban middle-class shopper that Food Lion store is crummy place to buy groceries. It is small, shabby, grimy and rather depressing. The selection is pitiful. The prices are high. With limited floor traffic and given the cost of bringing the store up to contemporary corporate standards, I’m not at all surprised that some executive at Delhaize Group (the Brussels, Belgium based conglomerate that owns Food Lions) added that particular store to his closing list.
The people in the Rivermont area don’t need that Food Lion. They need a Walmart Super Store within walking distance. They need a store with the kind of selection and prices that suburban shoppers take for granted as a fundamental right. They need that extra margin of financial advantage that shopping in such a place brings to people who must count every penny. But the same marketplace realities that will close the Food Lion on Bedford Avenue before Valentine’s Day will prevent a Walmart from taking its place.
Next month that poor elderly Black woman who barely ekes out a subsistence level existence—who lives within a long and tiring walk from the intersection of Bedford Avenue and Magnolia Street—who nonetheless makes that walk every couple days to save bus fare money—will have to find a new way to buy her groceries and get them home.
I pastor a church in this neighborhood. And I find myself asking what can we, as Christ’s followers, do to ease the plight of that woman? It is a hard question without an easy answer.