Finding groceries is no easy task for Stop Six resident Teena James. James’ usual grocery run requires her to travel between 8 to 10 miles, and sometimes going as far as Crowley, 17 miles away.  

James considers herself lucky; she has a car.

But for many of the older residents in her neighborhood who don’t drive or have a car, groceries can be hard to come by. So James makes the trek again, giving them rides to a fully-stocked store so they can stock their fridges and pantries with fresh and healthy food.

“When it comes to being able to get to and from or having a sufficient store that provides fresh foods and vegetables, we don’t have one,” she said.

The topic of grocery stores was front and center at a recent meeting on the progress of the long-awaited Evans and Rosedale project – an urban village – in Fort Worth’s historic Southside.

“The need is extremely hard on this community,” said Edward Spears, pastor at Faith & Love Church of God in Christ on Mitchell Boulevard, and president of the Fort Worth Tarrant County Pentecostal Ministers Union

When residents ask about a timeline for a full-sized grocery store, a familiar demographic is brought up – density. They’ve been told more than once over the years that there just aren’t enough homes in the area to justify the construction of a name-brand store. But U.S. Census data examined by the Fort Worth Report show that the ZIP codes with the most grocery stores are not always more densely populated than those with the fewest or none at all. 

ZIP code areas like 76104, which includes Fort Worth’s Historic Southside, have a population density of over 3,200 people per square mile. That’s slightly denser than 76107 –  the West 7th area – which has a density of just under 3,000 people per square mile.

The Southside area has one grocery store, while West 7th has at least three.

The food desert extends well beyond the historic Southside, especially to the east, along Rosedale Street and Lancaster Avenue. A Google search of major chain grocery stores – such as Tom Thumb and Kroger – shows a lack of locations east of Interstate 35W and south of Interstate 30, stretching to Loop 820.

Density is only part of the reason for the disparity, said Aaron Farmer, president of the Retail Coach, a national retail consulting, market research and development firm that works with cities and chambers of commerce to attract retail options.

Other factors that determine the location of a grocery store include housing growth, disposable income, how much of the population is reliant on SNAP benefits and nearby competition.

Free-market capitalism also comes into play.

“At the end of the day, these grocers are looking to make money. They’re looking to make a profit,” Farmer said. 

‘There is no option’

Spears often traveled outside his Morningside neighborhood to shop for groceries when he still lived there a year ago. The closest Walmart at Berry Street, about three miles away, was a hit or miss, he said. 

Now he lives in the McCart neighborhood – a mecca for grocery stores.

“There’s a huge contrast between the two. Within maybe two or three minutes of my house, we can get to about three or four grocery stores,” Spears said. “Within that same radius of our church or where we lived before, there is no option.”

Density and wealth team up to play a huge role in determining whether an area is deemed worthy of a major grocery store. 

Those factors tend to disproportionately affect historically disadvantaged neighborhoods and marginalized communities, Farmer said. 

With a density of 3,200 people per square mile, Census data shows that the Historic Southside (ZIP code 76104) has a median household income of just under $42,000. A ZIP code near TCU, has a lower density number, at just over 3,000, but a median household income of almost $90,000.

The Historic Southside has just one full-access grocery store; the area near TCU has at least five. 

The story also holds true in many affluent suburbs, such as Southlake, where a Central Market, Trader Joe’s, Tom Thumb, Kroger and Sprouts line Southlake Boulevard.

On the other side of the economic fence, neighborhoods without major chains of fully stocked grocery stores rely on the heavy presence of discount, convenience and drug stores, where the food options are more limited. 

“Most of the stores that we do shop from or that we have… things are expired,” James said. “People are being forced to shop online because they don’t have any other options.”

Targeting lower-income areas is part of these discount stores’ model, said Martha Collins, a revitalization coordinator with the city’s economic development and revitalization department

“When cities are having conversations, the way we decide where we want our grocery stores, I think is a very different picture than the way that (grocery stores) actually look at it,” she said.

Grocery stores’ service can extend beyond a specific ZIP code. Customers can come from overlapping communities, like those who live and work in the nearby area. There are also customers who travel to stores with more affordable prices or to look for specific brands.

“These customers can all be difficult to capture in the data, but it does mean that geographic proximity to a grocery store doesn’t always tell the whole story of who is actually shopping there,” she said.

Dollar, or discount, stores are among the fastest growing in the industry, creating a competitive environment for grocery stores looking to establish themselves in high-demand areas, Collins said.

“That is hard because when you have all the dollar stores, other big grocers look at that and they’re like ‘Well, they do have food’ and then you think about dollar-by-dollar competition,” she said. 

In late 2019, Fort Worth City Council passed an ordinance limiting the spread of dollar stores within a neighborhood in an effort to provide more options to residents.  

This prevents future “small box discount stores” from popping up within two miles of an existing discount store and requires at least 10% of the store to include fresh produce, meat and dairy products.

What type of food store is it?

Full-service grocery stores: A full-service grocery store is a store that is open seven days a week, offers fresh produce and meat, and accepts payments from assistance programs. 

Discount stores: A limited-service store that offers a limited selection of fresh produce.

Drug/convenience stores: A limited-service store that offers a limited selection of fresh produce.

Source: City of Fort Worth

But residents in these food deserts have heard many of these responses over the years as justification for why a major grocery store has yet to come to an area like the Historic Southside. 

Spears isn’t buying it. 

“I think that the argument of economics is being used as a reason not to (bring a grocery store) instead of an indictment that we need (a grocery store),” he said. 

‘This is the best chance we’ve had’

In an effort to address the issue, the city of Fort Worth has incentives available for grocers and health clinics looking to establish themselves in areas of need — even if the demographics don’t support it. 

“We’ve had conversations, grocery stores know we have incentives and are willing to throw money at it,” Collins said. “That hasn’t really moved the needle most of the time.”

One successful example of a public-private partnership in southeast Fort Worth is the addition of the Walmart center at Renaissance Square, off Berry Street and Mitchell Boulevard. The city’s tax increment financing No. 12 (East Berry Renaissance) incentivized the developer to create Renaissance Square. The Realtor was then able to bring in a Walmart. 

Today, the shopping center also has a Ross, Marshall’s and restaurants. 

“That whole development was really awesome. The landowner who was willing to be creative and patient with his capital wasn’t just trying to make a bang for his buck. He was trying to make an impact in the community. … It’s a purpose-built communities model,” Collins said. 

Collins also said Walmart doesn’t just rely on its grocery products for the store’s long-term sustainability. The retailer also offers other products that help stabilize its business model.

Hoque Global’s project on Evans and Rosedale is expected to bring in a grocery store and is currently receiving tax incentives from the city. The ongoing Stop Six Choice Neighborhood Initiative is also planning on bringing a farmers market to that area to address the need. 

While no timeline has been established nor any leads made public, Retail Coach’s Farmer said it’s a step in the right direction. 

“I still think the southeast area is going to be a challenge for all the reasons we listed, but I think this is the best chance we’ve had,” he said. 

Spears said he is still holding out hope that he will one day see a grocery store in this long-neglected part of Fort Worth. 

“I was very optimistic by seeing the number of people that came out to the Evans and Rosedale development meeting and the number of people that are understanding that their voice has volume to it,” he said. “My faith believes that there’s always a greater plan, but it will take the people coming together and holding everyone accountable.”

For James, it’s about creating a livable community for future generations.

“Before I pass and my four children start having children (that) are being raised in the same area, hopefully, we’ll have a grocery store that will provide them with fresh produce and vegetables and food and meat in our community that will be safe.”

Sandra Sadek is a Report for America corps member, covering growth for the Fort Worth Report. You can contact her at or on Twitter at @ssadek19.

At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Sandra SadekBusiness Reporter

Sandra Sadek is a Report for America corps member, covering growth for the Fort Worth Report. Originally from Houston, she graduated from Texas State University where she studied journalism and international...