Note: originally published Sept. 16.
The closing of Charleston’s Meeting Street Bi-Lo has raised major concerns about local access to grocery stores. When the Bi-Lo permanently closed its doors on Oct. 5, the total number of grocery stores in downtown Charleston was reduced to just two. For residents of Charleston’s East Side without personal transportation, the closing of this Bi-Lo will make buying fresh foods significantly more challenging.
With a high percentage of residents living a mile or more from a grocery store and lacking transportation, the result is little to no access to fresh food, known as a food desert. Many people are forced to rely on nearby corner marts and gas stations for food, options which are full of high-calorie, low-nutrition processed foods.
This might be new crisis downtown, but it is an issue North Charleston has been dealing with for more than ten years. In the Chicora area, many residents cannot afford cars and live miles from a grocery store with fresh food options. The lack of grocery stores in the Charleston area primarily affects minorities and the impoverished. First Vice President of the Charleston Branch of the NAACP, Reverend Joseph A. Darby, stated, “To understand living in a food desert everyone should ask themselves, ‘What would grocery shopping be like if I could only shop at 7-11s or Kangaroo Marts?’” For many people in North Charleston, this is a reality. The closing of the Meeting Street Bi-Lo only escalates the problem. Reverend Darby explained that the “closing of a grocery store that catered to diverse clientele pushes minorities off the peninsula.”
The food deserts in Charleston have the potential to cause long term public health problems. A diet solely based on the products found in corner stores lacks the necessary nutrients to live a healthy life. Problems like obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and tooth decay quickly pile up. This leads to an increase in the cost of health care for an already poverty-stricken community.
“Creativity,” states Reverend Darby, will be necessary to attract a grocery store in these low-income areas. In the past, the city attempted offering monetary bonuses to corporations that would open a grocery store in North Charleston. The city also considered developing a locally run and self-sustaining grocery store to cut out dependence on grocery store corporations altogether.
CARTA has responded by offering free bus rides to the King Street Food Lion for the next 30 days.