Government as grocer predictably fails

Government as grocer predictably fails

Those who hold no affinity for the concept of “government as grocer” will find little comfort in the words (or at least the intimation therein) of Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto regarding the imminent closure of the Hill District Shop ‘n’ Save.

The store, which opened five years ago with painfully little investment by the owner, will close March 20. While there are allegations and counter-allegations of why the store failed, the bottom line is that no matter how much third-party money went into the facility, there was no market for such a grocery.

Perhaps that’s why, prior to its opening, there had not been such a full-service grocer in the Hill for decades.

And one can only wonder, given Peduto’s words, if the mistake of attempting to command the grocery market will be repeated. As the Post-Gazette reported it, the mayor says the city is “just trying to figure out the financials of what it would take to have (a new) operator move in.”

“A lot of the costs associated with it are brick and mortar and setting up the store,” Peduto continued. “Those costs are already taken care of. It’s a question of whether or not they’d be willing to open a store in the Hill District.”

At a premium – another public premium, one is to surmise?

But what makes anyone believe that a grocery store that could not make a go of it with a plethora of government, foundation and other assistance can make it now?

Mayor Peduto argues that another government operation overlording another central plan will create the kind of marketplace necessary to support Son of Shop ‘n’ Save.

That would be the redevelopment of the old Civic Arena site, which includes a hefty complement of housing, some “affordable.” You’ll recall that government handed the Pittsburgh Penguins redevelopment rights to its old home site but has maintained a heavy hand in all the whats and wheres of the project.

The Shop ‘n’ Save was built to, supposedly, satisfy a long-running demand for such a store. After all, the Hill District had become a “food desert,” we were told. That demand proved to be a mirage; this was a customer desert.

Fear not, however, a new central plan will create demand for a new grocer at the same site and likely with more incentives, is that it?

When at first you don’t succeed, fail, fail again?

Oh, the hubris.

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