Some councilmembers question Dallas plan to buy grocery store

Some council members are questioning a city of Dallas plan to buy a grocery store in southern Dallas that has already received millions of dollars in subsidies.

Dallas gave the operator of the Save A Lot $2.8 million as an economic incentive to open in the Highland Hills area since there were no other options for healthy food. But it turns out there is apparently not enough business for the store to survive on its own.

The proposal to buy the store was tucked away in a large agenda item focused on how to provide more social service resources that in turn would help reduce crime.

Dr. Eric Johnson, the head of economic development in Dallas, explained the rationale.

“When we look at challenging economics in these communities it is tough for grocery stores. Ownership started facing some unintended consequences,” Johnson said.

The store opened in October 2016 after getting the multi-million dollar grant from the city.

“I remember the great fanfare when it opened up and I was personally excited to see fresh food and I'm sorry it is not working,” said councilman Lee Kleinman.

The terms of the grant required it to operate until at least 2026. One councilmember asked why the city isn’t holding them to that.

Johnson said the city would work to recoup the grant money thru the purchase price.

“I'm not sure buying a grocery store is the answer,” said councilwoman Cara Mendelsohn.

Johnson said the city would partner with area food banks to service neighborhoods that lack fresh grocery options -- so-called food deserts.

“We won't be in the business of operating a grocery store,” Johnson said. “We’ll be partnering with a collective of organizations that will run a different type of model. So it’s sort of a stopgap measure through the acquisition but working with a series of community partners.”