Grocery fools

Grocery fools

The Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) tells the Post-Gazette it has proposals from two grocers interested in taking over some or all of the space briefly occupied by the heavily (and publicly) subsidized Shop ‘n Save grocery store in the Hill District.

The public should brace itself for yet another cluster cluck.

The Shop ‘n Save closed with a whimper in March 2019 after a five-year run in the Centre-Heldman Plaza. It opened amid much fanfare in 2013, giving the neighborhood its first full-server grocer in three decades.

And with lots of other people’s money.

The store owner put up a paltry $1 million of the store’s $12 million cost. Among other funding sources were the Pittsburgh Penguins ($1 million); the URA ($1 million); a federal grant ($789,000); federal tax credits ($2 million); the Heinz Endowments ($400,000); Rivers Casino gambling money ($365,000) and McAuley Ministries ($300,000).

But it quickly became apparent that the supposedly dire need for the grocery store was vastly overstated. Never generating the kind of foot traffic necessary to sustain itself, it died a protracted and painful death.

After the Shop ‘n Save failed – and the plaza with it — the URA purchased the plaza for $1.6 million.

Now comes the URA with a new plan. It says two grocers – not officially named but many are speculating — are interested in the space, one of which would require a smaller footprint.

And, of course, there’s talk of more public money in the deal, the first of which would be, if obtained, a $1 million state grant. How much, if anything, has been offered to the prospective grocers isn’t known. But it’s a good bet that some stick of some length with a carrot of some size has been, or will be, dangled as an enticement.

But the paramount question is what makes the URA and the grocers believe there will be sufficient foot traffic this time around to keep a grocery store up and running?

Another too-rosy prediction that will dearly cost taxpayers yet again?

Simply put, if a grocer can’t sustain itself without public dollars, it should not be in operation. Throwing public dollars at another grocer at this site again – and no matter in what form — would be a fool’s errand.  

And the taxpaying public has had quite enough of government command economists taking them for fools.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (