Let developers step up in supermarket quest Print
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 03 January 2018 19:03

The shock is wearing off, but the knowledge that Port Washington will lose its only grocery store in less than six months lingers over the city like a dark cloud portending bad weather.
    It’s not quite a crisis; two out-of-town supermarkets, Fox Bros. Piggly Wiggly and Walmart, are located a fairly short drive away in Saukville. Yet the closing of the Sanfilippo Sentry Foods store will knock the quality-of-life index down a few notches in Port Washington.
    Convenient access to a full-service grocery stores selling fresh food items, including produce, is considered so essential to the well being of American society that the U.S. Department of Agriculture tracks what it calls “food deserts”—areas defined mainly by the distance from homes to grocery stores.
    The closing of the Sentry store will not leave most Port Washington residents in a food desert, but people without access to vehicles will be there, according to the USDA. And with or without vehicles, some residents of areas north of the city will be left 15 or 20 miles away from the nearest supermarket—full-on food-desert living conditions.
    The imminent shuttering of Sentry was brought on by a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances: The decision by owners Joe and Santo Sanfilippo to retire after years of keeping the city’s last surviving grocery store in business; the purchase of the shopping center building that houses the store by the Piggly Wiggly chain and its restriction against renting to a competing food store; and the decision by SuperValu, the supermarket chain that supplies Sentry, to not take over the store under the existing lease.
    The remarkable volume of reader comments in reaction to Ozaukee Press news stories about the Sentry closing made it clear that the people of Port Washington don’t like the idea of living in a community without a grocery store. Some of the comments faulted city officials for not doing more to prevent the loss of the one and only grocery store.
    City officials apparently knew about the possibility of losing Sentry for months before it became public knowledge. It is surprising they didn’t engage the public earlier to marshal community support for attempts to save the supermarket.
    The die is cast as far as Sentry’s future is concerned, but the effort to provide a grocery store for the people of Port Washington must go on. It should not be expected of elected officials that they be experts in business development, but such expertise does exist in the community. Officials should reach out to the developers who have been working with the city on prominent residential and commercial projects, including Ansay Development Corp., Renew Port Holdings, Black Cap Halcyon and Stephen Perry Smith, for help in bringing a grocery store to town.
    It is reasonable to expect that these successful real estate developers would put their savvy, connections and market knowledge behind this cause—to support the community in which they are investing, as well to further their own business interests.
    Concerning the latter, picture a real estate agent giving a sales pitch to a prospective buyer or renter of one of the units in the upscale residential buildings soon to be built in the marina district. After hearing about all of Port Washington’s impressive attributes, the potential new resident might say, “That sounds wonderful, but by the way, are the city’s supermarkets conveniently located?”
    Imagine the sales person having to say, “Sorry, we don’t have any of those. You have to go to Saukville, Grafton, Cedarburg or Mequon to buy groceries.”