New grocery stores target Milwaukee food deserts

During cold Wisconsin winters and rainy days, Harambee neighborhood resident Theresa Garrison waits for the bus to go to the closest grocery store, the Pick 'n Save in Milwaukee's Riverwest area.

“The biggest inconvenience is that I have to leave my neighborhood to get groceries when I don't have a car,” Garrison said.

Soon both north side and south side residents will see more grocery options closer to their homes. Pete's Fruit Market will open a store in the Harambee neighborhood, and a Cermak Fresh Market will open in the Walker's Point area.

Garrison has lived in Milwaukee all her life and remembers when a handful of grocery stores operated near her home.

There are corner stores in the neighborhood, Garrison said, but their items are usually more expensive and usually do not include fruits, vegetables and other fresh foods.

Milwaukee's small corner store groceries have food prices that are often 40% higher than those in larger supermarkets, according to a recent study conducted by the Hunger Task Force, said Sherrie Tussler, executive director.

Also, the lack of fresh foods can lead to a host of health problems, including obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure. Pete's Fruit Market will open soon in a remodeled former Walgreens store at the northwest corner of N. King Drive and W. North Ave. The 13,700-square-foot store will be a full-service grocery, despite the "fruit market" name, similar to the Pete's at 1400 S. Union St.

Community leaders became very excited when they learned last year that Pete's would be coming to Milwaukee's north side, said Deshea Agee, executive director of the Historic King Drive Business Improvement District.

Agee said the other closest options for Harambee residents are the Pick 'n Save stores on 1100 E. Garfield Ave., where Garrison shops, or at 2355 N. 35th St.

Those stores are 1 and 3 miles, respectively, from the new Pete's Fruit Market - a distance that becomes daunting without a car.

It took a long time for the Harambee neighborhood to find the right site to accommodate a grocery store, Agee said. The corner location for Pete's is on a bus line and is near the I-43/North Ave. interchange.

Milwaukee's north side will gain an additional option when the Save-A-Lot national limited-assortment grocery chain opens a store at 2322 W. Oak St., just off W. Fond du Lac Ave. The Save-A-Lot will open in a former Lena's supermarket, which is being remodeled, in October.

Meanwhile, the Chicago-based Cermak Fresh Market group will open its Walker's Point store at the end of May.

That 65,000-square-foot store, with about 120 employees, will be part of the new Freshwater Plaza apartment and retail development north of E. Greenfield Ave. and east of S. 1st St. Cermak has one other area store, at 1541 Miller Park Way in West Milwaukee.

“Some residents have asked for a grocery store for 10 years,” said Walkers Point Association board member Ursula Twombly.

Part of the reason for the delay is because large chain grocers weren't sure if the area had enough collective buying power, she said.

“When a grocer looks at a location, they draw a big circle to see if there are a lot of buyers in the area,” Twombly said. “When you look at Walkers Point, you see an industrial site and a lake.”

Neighborhood residents helped attract Cermak by reaching out to grocers and voicing their opinions at public meetings, she said.

That neighborhood effort initially clashed with city development officials who wanted to reserve the Freshwater Plaza site for an office development. City officials later compromised, with part of the site reserved for a possible future office building. “Without the persistence of neighborhood residents, this wouldn't have happened,” Twombly said.