That’s not how food access works. A store slated to open in late 2018 in Crown Heights, Brooklyn plans to offer a bonus program for food stamp recipients, Supermarket News reports. Bedford Market, a grocery store from the same group as New York’s upscale Union Market mini-chain, will offer Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) recipients 10 percent in store credit on each fruit and vegetable purchase. That store credit will be redeemable for other produce purchases. Similar programs are already operating elsewhere in the country at stores like Kroger, but this will be the first of its kind in New York City. For the program, Bedford Market will receive almost a million dollars in tax incentives on the $1.8-million dollar project.
No reasonable person is going to argue that what amounts to a 10 percent discount on fruit and vegetables for SNAP users is a bad thing. But this is a 10 percent discount in the best case scenario—the scenario where a returning customer buys enough fruits and vegetables at Bedford Market to actually benefit from the program. On the other hand, no one’s going to argue that a 10 percent discount at a store where a bunch of kale costs $3.99 is going to solve access issues in a food desert.
Let’s back up: Why is Bedford Market offering the discount for SNAP recipients in the first place? It probably has something to do with that million dollar tax incentive it’ll enjoy (okay, fine, it’s $993,000, spread out over 25 years). Those incentives come from an NYC program called Food Retail Expansion to Support Health (FRESH; more background here), a program designed to establish and expand neighborhood grocery stores in underserved communities. Stores are eligible to apply for the FRESH program as long as they meet minimum space criteria and plan to set up shop in one of the eligible areas on this map, which is based on census data.
But Bedford Market will be located on a rapidly gentrifying stretch of that map, within spitting distance of a large transit hub and Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. And it’s opening in a new residential building at the site of a former gas station, purchased for $32.5 million in 2015, that’ll house 133 units–only 35 of which will be affordable housing. At a similar building one block west, studio units start renting at about $2,200 per month, according to YIMBY.
So to recap: Upscale grocery store opens in upscale residential building in rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. Said upscale grocery store offers 10 percent discount (but only on fruits and vegetables) to residents, many of whom—I’m going out on a limb here—will probably think its prices are absurd to begin with (they would hardly be alone in that). Grocery store receives $1 million ($993,000, whatever) tax incentive for opening up in an underserved area. That’s not how we democratize food.