dc food deserts

As Grocers Open in DC, Underserved Neighborhoods Still Lack Access to Healthy Food

“The mayor has put forth the food access fund, which is $58 million to create food access points throughout wards 7 and 8,” Falcicchio said.  

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A new grocery store, the latest in a string of full-service grocery stores opening in the District over the past several years, is coming to Northwest. But even though these food markets continue to pop up, thousands of residents still don’t have easy access to fresh food.

On Tuesday, the mayor’s office announced that one of the larger grocery chains, Lidl, is now also planning a new store on 14th Street NW. That's in addition to Lidl's first store in the District, set to open in 2022 at Ward 7's Skyland Town Center Development.

“Lidl, which is a new entry to the D.C. market, is going to be opening up their second location right here in Columbia Heights,” Falcicchio said. 

Although the nation’s capital is home to nearly 700,000 people and more than 70 full-service grocery stores, those stores aren’t evenly distributed. 

As a report written by the advocacy group D.C. Hunger Solutions shows, while each of the eight wards has roughly the same population, Ward 1, home to Columbia Heights, has 10 full-service grocery stores while Ward 8 has one. Ward 7 has two. Ward 3 in upper Northwest has 16 big grocers.

“In D.C. we have a lot of food insecurity, but it’s not for lack of food, it really is lack of access to healthy food,” Beverley Wheeler, the director of D.C. Hunger Solutions, said. 

According to John Falcicchio, the District’s deputy mayor for economic development, D.C. is spending tens of millions of dollars trying to attract food retailers to underserved neighborhoods, including smaller community grocery stores, like a Good Food Market + Cafe in Ward 8. 

“The mayor has put forth the food access fund, which is $58 million to create food access points throughout wards 7 and 8,” Falcicchio said.  

The District has added 24 grocery stores since 2015. Residents in Ward 3 are eagerly awaiting the penning of D.C.’s first Wegmans. It’s slated to open this summer and will be one of eight grocery stores in the offing. Harris Teeter, however, recently closed a location in Southeast. 

Wheeler pointed out that many of the residents east of the river rely on federal food subsidies like SNAP and WIC, which are not always accepted at smaller food stores

“The people who really suffer a lot are the disabled, we have a lot of children who are on SNAP and WIC, and seniors,” she said. 

In a major effort to bring another grocery store east of the river, Mayor Muriel Bowser and the D.C. Council are using eminent domain to acquire land in Ward 7 as the site for a yet-to-be-named location. 

On Wednesday, the D.C. Council will take up legislation that would provide added incentives for grocery stores in underserved areas, including allowing them to sell larger volumes of alcohol.

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