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Jacksonville leaders may have solution for food desert communities

Food desert concerns grow as 2 Harveys stores in Jacksonville set to close

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – With Southeastern Grocers set to shutter 94 grocery stores, including four Winn-Dixie and Harveys stores in the Jacksonville area, there are concerns that the closures will make it hard for people to find fresh food.

But during a town hall meeting Thursday night, Jacksonville City Councilwoman Katrina Brown and Councilman Reggie Brown, no relation, announced they may have a solution.

The council members said a local grocer might replace one of the closing stores, two of which include the Harveys on North Edgewood Avenue and the Harveys on Dunn Avenue.

Rob Rowe, who owns Rowe's Supermarkets throughout the city, said he wants to open a new grocery store at a soon-to-be closed Harveys store on Dunn Avenue, but he needs the city's help. 

"I have an interest in opening up the grocery store," Rowe said during Thursday evening's meeting. 

Rowe said the current Harveys location on the Northside has some challenges that will cost money. To help Rowe and encourage other grocery stores in the community, the council members have written House Bill 2018-195, which would provide $3 million. 

They have also written House Bill 2018-74, which would make it more challenging for liquor stores to enter communities. 

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, there are food deserts throughout Jacksonville. Food deserts are defined as areas where it is difficult for people to buy affordable, fresh and healthy foods.

INTERACTIVE MAP: USDA map shows each part of Jacksonville considered a food desert

"The proposal was great. It is something that is well-needed, especially when you use the words 'food deserts' -- something that they don't really talk about," Rashane Wearing said. "I think it is a great opportunity for new and improved supermarkets. Hopefully, health foods come into the community."

People who live in those food desert communities were optimistic as they left the town hall meeting.

"It's really exciting to see the community come together for this moment and especially the work that the council is doing in advance to correct the issue," Kristen Hodges said. "It was really different to hear Harveys was closing and now they are taking immediate action so the residents won't be in a food desert."

Both council members said they believe that the bills will pass and be the encouragement other grocery stores need to come to food deserts areas in Jacksonville. 

Local organizations are also working to make sure these communities don’t get forgotten. They are stepping up their efforts, along with the city, to increase access to good-quality, fresh food.

About the Authors:

16-year veteran journalist and Emmy Award winning anchor

Florida-born multi-media journalist pays special attention to issues in St. Johns County.