By Tommy A. Purvis
Get ready for more blight, San Bernardino.
Besides the economic ruin that the permanent closure of the 30-year-old Stater Bros. in downtown San Bernardino is expected to heighten, the now-shuttered grocery store will mean one other thing: a food desert.
The grocer’s departure will slash food shopping options in the economically disturbed neighborhood for nearly a thousand seniors in nearby housing units, as well the larger swaths of low-income families surrounding the nearly empty Carousel Mall. The IE’s only Fortune 500 firm boarded the storefront windows for the 648 W. 4th St. location on Sunday, earlier in the day than the impacted communities were advised.
“The closure of Stater Bros really puts our residents in a difficult bind,” Dee Moyes, the resident manager of the St. Bernadine Plaza, told the Weekly. “It’s an injustice to our senior citizens.”
The United States Food Drug Administration (USDA) defines a “food desert” as a region without access to fresh, healthy and affordable food. Instead of super markets and grocery stores, residents in a food desert will often rely on fast food restaurants and corner liquor stores as reliable food options. The situation is often made worse by the lack of a car or reliable public transit to reach alternative food sources.
A food desert locator map from the USDA’s Economic Research Service (ESR) acknowledged the downtown San Bernardino area as such even when the Stater. Bros. was open. The next closest options for the aging and less mobile demographic is Food 4 Less. The grocer is a few more blocks south on 2nd Street. The location is too far for many of the electric wheel chairs to make the round trip without a charge, Moyes told the Weekly. And, then there is the overall lower quality of the produce and the fact that customers have to bag their own groceries.
Omnitrans alerted bus riders that frequent the often-busy 4th Street Transit Center in front of the closed Stater Bros. that Superior Grocers on 2nd St. is the closest alternative to purchase bus passes after the closure. The research paper “Food Deserts in the Inland Empire” by Pomona College environmental analysis student Ashley McCoy determined that the further a person has to walk for groceries affects the value of their dollar. Bulk purchases are no longer an option.
“I come to Stater. Bros. because the diapers and baby formula are cheaper than anywhere else around here,” La Teana Jones told the Weekly a few days before the store was scheduled to close. “There is no longer a store within walking distance to shop for groceries other than the corner liquor markets.”
There was initial hope among many that the Jack H. Brown-run grocery chain that operates 167 stores throughout Inland Southern California would reconsider the closure. The Stater Bros. brand known for being a “hometown company” took a hit in February when the grocer, along with the San Bernardino Convention & Visitors Bureau put the annual Route 66 Rendezvous on hiatus. A profile of the CEO in the San Bernardino Sun a few years ago reveals he drives around the sprawling Stater Bros.’ corporate warehouse complex near the former Norton Air Base in a golf cart emblazoned with a waving American flag.
The shutdown of the downtown San Bernardino location comes as Stater Bros. breaks ground on a brand new 44,000-square-foot market in Redlands that promises to be a state-of-the-art, energy-efficient store. The new location scheduled to be open in September places the grocer in an emerging partnership with the other local power broker, The Lewis Group of Companies.
The grocer did not respond to the Weekly for a comment on the store closure. Phil Smith, the director and vice chairman of the grocer told The Press-Enterprise in March that the company has “been struggling with this over several years.”
Smith also told The Press-Enterprise that the location had been operating in the red for a couple of years.