Militant Journalism

East Side Cleveland to be a food desert? Regional supermarket chain plans closure

In late March, news of the impending closure of the Dave’s Supermarket location in the Collinwood neighborhood of Cleveland’s largely impoverished East Side began to circulate among locals.

By March 28, the regional grocery chain provided an official statement to news outlets confirming the store would close April 30. This statement came roughly one week after company representatives met with city officials to discuss the closing of the area’s only remaining full-service grocery store. It has been reported that during this meeting representatives from Dave’s emphatically declined what amounted to an open-ended offer of financial assistance from the local government.

According to Cleveland Ward Eight Councilman Mike Polensek, the grocer had cited “[a] drop in revenue/sales volume” as well as an ominous “decrease in customer base” as the primary considerations regarding the store’s closing. Tragically, one can’t help but infer that this “decrease” is due to the criminally mismanaged COVID-19 pandemic.

Additionally cited by the grocery chain was the allegedly tenuous relationship between the management company and the grocer-tenant. Unfavorable lease arrangements such as building maintenance carried out by the grocer-tenant reportedly lead to both a dilapidated supermarket and working relationship.

In the end, an alleged sudden and sharp increase in rent was the financial breaking point for the owners of the Dave’s Supermarket chain, the Saltzman family. However, the landlord of the Dave’s location in North Collinwood disputes these claims. Competing timelines and financially adjacent business developments in the same community make it difficult to know which party is telling the truth.

Formerly one of 13 commercial locations in Greater Cleveland, Dave’s Supermarket opened its door in Collinwood 33 years ago. Since 1989, this grocery store has been a critical link in the chain of the East Side of Cleveland’s food infrastructure network. The supermarket’s full services are a crucial supplement to local butchers, delis and other small businesses. The full-service supermarket formed not only a reciprocal relationship with neighborhood businesses, but became an integral community asset as well.

Councilman Polensek noted that Collinwood has the highest concentration of both senior citizens and residents on public assistance in Cleveland. The residents of Euclid Beach Villas, an 800-unit senior living facility across the street from the supermarket, will now be left without a grocery store in their immediate area.

Pressed for alternatives and solutions to this impossible challenge, company representatives revealed a proposal for “shuttles” to another Dave’s Supermarket location in nearby Cleveland suburb, Euclid. Residents are justifiably wary of the practical viability of such a proposal.

An all too familiar story

The Cuyahoga County Planning Commission determined in 2018 that roughly half-a-million inhabitants of Cuyahoga County live in food deserts, including a stunning 59% of Cleveland residents.

North Collinwood was one of the remaining exceptions to this rule, but the abrupt closure of Dave’s Supermarket puts nearby residents and families on a collision course with food desertification. Now, adding insult to injury, the sole solution presented to the residents of Collinwood is, per usual, to travel to a more affluent suburb for the most basic of necessities. 

Empty coolers at the soon-to-be-closed Dave's Market in Collinwood. Photo credit: André Dailey
Empty coolers at the soon-to-be-closed Dave’s Market in Collinwood. Photo credit: André Dailey

Residents of the city of Cleveland should not have to leave their city to find amenities that people in wealthier metropolitan areas take for granted.

On April 4, a Collinwood resident, André Dailey, brought concerns to a City Council meeting. Giving a voice to his neighborhood of Collinwood, he demonstrated how the “shuttle proposal” by the city government is an example of creating problems out of solutions.

The city government had claimed that the distance to the nearest Dave’s was only 10 minutes. But Dailey noted that the distance to nearby supermarkets varies depending not only on where they lived in Collinwood, but also upon their access to transportation.

“I would not desire to see seniors, veterans and disabled constituents of Ward 8 to continue to lose access. We owe them so much more. A supermarket which is centrally located on the boulevard is essential to Collinwood’s development and growth,” he said.

Dailey later reiterated by e-mail the critical nature of food infrastructure: “We should all have access to healthy food. We cannot continue to stand idly by while our communities lose access.

On April 21, community members met with representatives from the local government to bring forth their grievances with the store shutting down. Half measures, such as bussing seniors to the nearest grocery store, were again presented. However, there was no answer to the most pressing demand: a new grocery store in Collinwood. This demand will only be answered through persistent organized pressure by the community.

Feature photo: Dave’s Market in Collinwood is set to close April 30, leaving the neighborhood without a full-service grocery store. Photo credit: André Dailey

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