Food deserts: Grocery giant shuts down in southwest Baltimore

The Price Rite Marketplace in southwest Baltimore will permanently close its doors by the end of December. Photo: Baltimore Afro

Over the past two years, grocery store closures have rolled across the U.S. like an epidemic. In particular, these closures have occurred in working-class communities, especially where most residents are Black or Brown. 

Whether it is Kroger, Aldi, Stop and Shop, etc., huge grocery store magnates are closing stores that serve working-class neighborhoods. Corporate public relations departments and their allies in the media tell us that the reason for these closures is shoplifting or a shortage of workers. 

In reality, these stores close because of corporate greed. There is no better demonstration of this reality than the recently announced closure of a Price Rite Marketplace in the heart of southwest Baltimore. Price Rite is part of the giant Wakefern Food conglomeration that includes ShopRite, Fresh Grocer, Dearborn Market, Fairway Market, and more. Wakefern is one of the top 25 grocery retailers in the U.S., with 365 supermarkets, and is the largest private employer in New Jersey, with 40,200 employees. 

This particular Price Rite store has been a staple in the Baltimore “Pigtown” neighborhood for over two decades. The Pigtown Price Rite is the only full grocery store easily accessible to those living in Pigtown and all the southwest Baltimore neighborhoods. 

The recently announced Price Rite closure has sent a wave of shock and concern through the surrounding community. For years, this store has been the only source of fresh produce and meat in the area. Without it, the evolution of southwest Baltimore into a food desert is tragically complete. 

Further compounding the injustice, the Giant grocery store chain announced the opening of a new location in the Locust Point neighborhood of Baltimore. Locust Point is a rapidly gentrifying majority-white middle-class neighborhood just east of Pigtown. While Locust Point is not geographically distant from Pigtown, because of economic segregation, it might as well be. 

Due to the lack of public transportation and racist wealth inequality, overpriced grocery stores in the heart of gentrifying neighborhoods are just not an option for the working-class Black and Brown communities in west Baltimore. 

As if the closure itself wasn’t bad enough, it seems unlikely that a different store will replace the Price Rite due to greedy developers. Several months ago, the Carlyle Development Group purchased the shopping center where the Pigtown Price Rite is currently located from the Baltimore City Government for an unbelievably low price. After the market announced its closure, the Carlyle Development Group made it clear that it would not seek to rent to another grocery store. 

Their reason? Private medical practices and laboratories have a higher profit margin than grocery stores; working-class communities be damned. 

The recent closure of the Pigtown Price Rite is one development in a broader trend in the capitalist market. Grocery store magnates have strategically decided to abandon working-class neighborhoods for wealthier, usually white, areas. 

For example, when workers at the Kroger-owned Ralph’s supermarket in South Central Los Angeles demanded hero pay for hours worked at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, what was the store’s reaction? Well, Kroger decided to close that store, much like the Price Rite development in Baltimore, which deepened the food desert crisis in South Central Los Angeles. 

The developers don’t care about people. The grocery store chains don’t care about people. The politicians in their pockets don’t care, either. The capitalists only care about their bottom line.  

We must fight back against these racist and anti-worker closures that cost the community healthy food access and jobs. The only people helped by these closures are millionaire and billionaire investors.

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