The former Boys & Girls Club building at 21st and Grove is about to become Wichita’s newest Family Dollar store, and residents of the largely African-American neighborhood aren’t happy about it.
City Council member Brandon Johnson broke the news on his Facebook page Wednesday, and constituent comments were mostly a mix of disbelief, anger and profanity that the northeast neighborhood was getting yet another discount dollar-type store, to add to the six already in the general area.
“Another dollar store is ridiculous,” one said. “A tutoring center, a grocery store, a quality gas station or something of that nature would have been better.”
Neighborhood activist Candice Reed said several proposals were made for community use of building when it was owned by the city, but the city said the community couldn’t have it.
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“I just can’t even believe it,” she said. “They give us dollar stores and liquor stores and tell us to be happy with what we get.”
Johnson said he found out what was happening only by going there and asking construction workers what they were building.
There was no public notice, discussion or input because the site was already zoned for commercial use and the plans didn’t need to come before the Planning Commission or Wichita City Council, Johnson said.
Family Dollar officials were unavailable for comment. An e-mail to the company’s media relations department was answered with a link to an inactive e-mail account and attempts to reach a company spokesman by phone bounced to a vacation message.
The new store will be about 400 yards from an existing Dollar General store offering more or less the same mix of discount household items and packaged foods.
“From what I’m hearing, folks wanted to have a grocery option,” Johnson said. “I think the community just feels saturated with these dollar-store options. We’d really love to see a grocery option in the food desert.”
There is a Save-A-Lot market about a mile south at the corner of Grove and 13th.
“It’s the only food option in quite some ways,” Johnson said. “And when I say food option, I mean where you can buy enough supplies to make an actual hot meal with fresh produce — not just sandwich meat, cheese and milk, but something where you can go get your lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, things like that to put a meal together to feed your family.”
Save-A-Lot does have fresh meat and produce, although it’s a basic, no-frills grocery concept compared to what’s available in many city neighborhoods. There are no gas pumps, coffee shop, pharmacy, salad bar or other amenities.
And it’s hard to get to Save-A-Lot from the 21st Street corridor and points north of it, Johnson said.
“Nothing’s wrong with it, but you’re talking about folks who may not have an option to drive over there,” Johnson said. “It’d be tough to go get four or five pounds of meat and walk home from 13th Street.”
Walmart closed its neighborhood grocery store at 13th and Oliver two years ago. There is an Aldi, another limited-selection discount grocery store at 21st and Woodlawn.
But the nearest full-service supermarket, Dillons, is a 20-minute round-trip by car — or an hour and a half by bus — at 21st and Rock.
There’s already talk of boycotting the new Family Dollar, on Johnson’s Facebook page and elsewhere, he said.
“It seems like there are some people who are just frustrated with not being able to get the things they need in the community and they may end up choosing to not support it until they can get the actual necessities that they have taken care of,” he said.
Other than spot usage for storage and the occasional charity drive, the building has sat vacant since the Boys & Girls Club moved to a new, more modern place on Opportunity Drive about 10 years ago.
The city owned the building in the mid-2000s and considered turning it over to the Lord’s Diner for a satellite station to feed the poor and homeless. But that plan fell through amid neighborhood opposition and City Hall sold the building off as surplus property.
Rep. Gail Finney, who represents the area in the state Legislature, said she found out about the new Family Dollar on Wednesday and has mixed feelings.
She said the building has been a deteriorating eyesore, with weeds growing up through cracks in the parking lot ever since the Boys & Girls Club left.
“We were all hoping there would have been something up there because it’s looked blighted for so long,” Finney said. “I’m glad at least something is up there.”
But she said she wished the space could have been put to better use.
“Don’t get me wrong, we do have Save-A-Lot, but we would love to have more stores that do have fresh fruits and vegetables and additional opportunities to buy food and gas too,” Finney said.