For a city its size, Tulare hasn’t had a big-name grocery store – think Save Mart or Vons – since the Albertsons on Cherry Street closed its doors.
Community is Mostly Underserved
There are certainly grocery stores in Tulare. Albertsons was replaced by the locally-owned Palace Food Depot, which closed last October after 80 years in business. It was in turn replaced by the small, independent chain Superior Grocers. But most of Tulare’s groceries are clustered in the northeast portion of the city. That leaves much of the rest of the city’s residents driving across town or taking public transportation to resupply their larders and stock up on household items.
This is especially true on the west side of town.
“There’s the Superior Grocers and Vallarta on Cherry Street,” said Tulare’s principal city planner Steve Sopp. “There are a few, but I think the city staff agrees we’re underserved.”
The US Department of Food and Agriculture (USDA) has identified a lack of access to local grocery stores as a major problem across the county. The problem is more acute in areas with lower incomes than the national average. The USDA reports 11.5 million low-income individuals – 4.1% of the US population – live in low-income neighborhoods more than a mile from a grocery store.
The poor aren’t the only ones who suffer. In total, 23 million Americans, including six million children, live more than a mile from a grocery store.
Experts call the phenomenon a “food desert.”
‘Food deserts’ a Health Hazard
Results of a study published in 2017 by the RAND Corporation show having a grocery store nearby boosts citizens’ physical and financial health.
The researchers found a significant reduction in high cholesterol levels among the populace when a grocery store was nearby. They also noticed a severe decline in the number of people using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to make ends meet. And, the shopping centers that grocery stores anchor drive traffic to surrounding businesses, increase tax revenue and provide well-paying jobs.
“Our findings suggest that locating a new supermarket in a low-income neighborhood may trigger health and economic improvements beyond just having access to healthier and more plentiful food offerings,” said Andrea Richardson, the study’s lead author and policy researcher at RAND.
Adding grocery stores to a community like Tulare, the USDA maintains, can also avoid the city becoming a so-called “food swamp,” where unhealthy eating options like fast food outnumber grocery stores, farmers markets and similar outlets by a ratio of typically four-to-one or worse.
Tulare City Hall Shopping for Grocers
The city fathers and mothers know the city needs more retail grocery business in town to avoid food desertification. They aren’t sitting on their hands.
“We’re working to recruit grocery stores to the city,” Sopp said. “We don’t want to trend into that kind of situation.”
They’ve had looky-loos, but nothing has panned out yet.
“We’ve had some interest,” Sopp said. “ALDI was close to coming at one time. We felt Save Mart was close to coming at one time, too, but conditions changed and they didn’t make the commitment.”
Box stores have helped, but they aren’t quite enough, according to Sopp.
“Walmart sells groceries, but it’s not a full supercenter. Target is more of a full grocer,” he said. “There’s a FoodsCo, but again that’s not a full-service grocery store.
Yes, the city has groceries for sale, but the options are limited and concentrated east of Highway 99. Even on that side of town the pickings are slimmer than they should be.
“For the size of the city of Tulare, it seems underserved,” Sopp said. “I think residents on the east side, Bardsley and Mooney, you’re essentially going to Prosperity to get groceries. A lot of residents feel it’s primed to have something over there.”
Nunley Proposes New Shopping Center
With city hall on the lookout for a full-service, major chain grocery store, former Tulare City Council member and land developer Greg Nunley saw an opportunity. Recently, through development consultant Darlene Mata, Nunley tried to sell the planning commission on a commercial center at Bardsley Street and Mooney Boulevard.
“We’re designing it so it can accommodate a grocery store,” Mata said. “There will be a couple of pads for fast food places, in-line pads. There’s also a spot for a car wash.”
The development – Sequoia Marketplace – would be anchored by a major retail outlet. Mata said she’s put out feelers specifically for grocery stores after learning the city was also on the hunt.
“We agree, and we’re trying to bring one to Tulare,” she said. “We don’t have a signed contract with anybody at this time.”
As designed, the location seems ideal for a supermarket.
“It will be very similar to shopping centers you see in Visalia, where there’s a Save Mart and surrounding stores,” Mata said. “It’s a typical retail setup.”
As yet, there’s no timeline for construction of the would-be shopping center. Once approved, development will be done in phases.
“We’ll probably have some of the pads processed earlier,” Mata said. “We’re still working on getting a grocery store. That will obviously speed things up.”
Have they had any bites?
“‘We’re working on it,’ is all I can say,” Mata said.
City Likes What It Sees
Sopp said Nunley’s project has the support of City Hall.
“We are excited to see commercial development, and we are hopeful Greg Nunley is successful at bringing more businesses,” he said.
Meanwhile, the city intends to grow in acreage. An annexation project is in the works for the area near the College of the Sequoias satellite campus. The land in question is on East Bardsley Avenue, and if approved would move COS into the city limits. It’s just down the road from the area Nunley hopes to develop.
Driving the urge to enlarge the city is an already approved neighborhood development – the Chandler Grove – that is going to cover 230 acres with assorted housing, a park, possibly an elementary school and retail outlets. It will occupy land between the COS campus and Mission Oak High School.
“Once developed, it’s going to have 1,100 low- to medium(-income) residential, high-density residential (units),” Tulare’s economic developer Tracy Myers told ABC30 Action News last year. “It will have a central park, potentially its own school and community center.”
It will also include single-family homes. Construction is expected to begin in late 2024.