A pig in a poke in the Hill?

A pig in a poke in the Hill?

Court documents indicate the heavily publicly subsidized Shop ‘n’ Save grocery store in the Hill District has not been paying its rent. But it’s unclear as to why.

There are suggestions it’s because the Hill House Association, the struggling nonprofit that owns the property, has not been maintaining and/or policing the parking lot and lighting. That raises the question if the association has the management wherewithal to be the landlord.

There are other suggestions that there is an insufficient customer base to support the store. That raises the larger question of whether the store should have been built in the first place.

So, what are the answers?

For decades, the marketplace decreed that there was no market for a full-service grocer in this locale. And no private grocer would come in precisely because of this reason. Only when heavy public subsidies were offered, did Shop ‘n’ Save agree to come – and then with woefully little of its own skin in the game.

You’ll recall as well that 11 years ago the Save-A-Lot chain was ready to attempt a Hill District store. But that effort succumbed to the mindset that only a “full service” grocer was acceptable.

In 2008, Save-A-Lot featured a smaller, more targeted inventory but prices that it said were 40 percent lower than a full-service grocer. It might have been a better fit for the Hill. But, then again, there’s really no way of knowing that.

But given the public “investment” in the Shop ‘n’ Save, the public has a right to know what the full and real story is. That’s especially critical given that some pols already have floated the idea of replacing Shop ‘n’ Save with another grocer.

Is there another chain that sees enough profit potential to take over the Hill District location? Or will any replacement simply be another subsidized player — the same kind of pig with a new shade of lipstick, a newly gussied up salesperson for yet another pig in a poke?

Again, the marketplace has been speaking in one of two ways or both in this matter.

From the information made public, it’s either a case of the Hill House Association not having the chops to manage this property or there simply not being enough traffic to support this grocer, even heavily subsided – or both.

Whatever the real story is, it has become a textbook case on the hubris of marketplace interventionism. Bureaucrats have a not-so-funny and typically very expensive habit of doubling down on their mistakes to cover up the economic lie of interventionism, throwing good money after bad.

And that’s the kind of public disservice that is anathema to sound public policy.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).