Myth buster: Blogger takes on the one about Detroit grocers

Jan 27, 2011 at 4:37 pm
The oft-repeated “fact” that Detroit lacks a grocery store owned or operated by a national chain reminds me of something a wise source once told me: “Statistics are like a bikini. They reveal what’s appealing but hide what’s relevant.”

Thanks to Detroit blogger James Griffioen’s article at the Urbanophile website, the world has a better view about the meaning of the missing chains, mainly that their absence has no bearing on the thriving, independent, convenient, well-stocked food stores that do exist in the city’s 138-square miles. In fact, he writes, “A couple of them are even Aldi stores, a chain supermarket operated by the same company that owns Trader Joes.” So the total absence of chains isn’t quite what it’s reported to be.

His piece includes Google maps virtually pinpointing where to shop for groceries and snapshots of mouth-watering produce stands. He’s got anecdotes about specialty shops and tales of the efforts throughout the city to better distribute healthy food offerings. And he introduces non-Detroiters to Eastern Market, the kind of institution that deserves national attention.

To maintain that grocery chains indicate a civil society — and that the latter is impossible without the former — is insulting, and Griffioen effectively proves otherwise. And he calls out national media — such as The New York Times, Th Wall Street Journal and Dateline NBC — that have trumpeted this no-chains-in-the-city line as some major indicator of urban vitality. “Any Detroiters who want fresh store-bought fruits and vegetables or wrapped meats have to get in their car and drive to the suburbs. That is, if they have a car,” opined one urban scholar in Good Magazine. Well, that’s not an illogical interpretation of what’s been reported — even if it happens to be untrue.

Griffioen notes that like many of Detroit’s amenities and priorities, the grocery stores are largely located downtown, in southwest Detroit and along the river which mimics other resource patterns. The residents living in the poorer, less strategically located areas do have fewer options. That’s the reality we should be worried about.