Earlier this year, a landmark South Frankfort business closed. Now, residents are looking for an alternative place to buy their groceries.
Bryant’s Pic-Pac, which had served residents for over half-a-century, rang up its last customer in July at the corner of West Second and Steele streets.
Owner Danny Bryant told The State Journal at the time that he was “ready to move on to something besides retail” and that there wasn’t a base to continue supporting a full grocery store. Bryant had previously planned to close Pic-Pac in 2018, but after customers rallied around the business, it remained open.
In addition to the grocery, the store had a deli that was a popular lunch spot for state employees, downtown workers and residents.
‘It’s been hard’
The hole that Pic-Pac left has some calling downtown and South Frankfort a food desert. The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines a food desert as a neighborhood that “lacks healthy food sources.” While the Franklin County Farmers Market does sell fresh, local produce, residents can only buy when the market is open. Pic-Pac sold produce daily.
The King’s Daughters Apartments are located within walking distance of the building where the grocery was located. Property Manager Lucy Sparks said that when Pic-Pac was open, residents from the apartment building visited the story almost daily. Now, an employee drives a bus to Walmart or Save-A-Lot a few times a month. Only a few residents have their own means of transportation, she said.
“They really liked Pic-Pac,” Sparks said. “It was really convenient for them.”
Sparks said the complex is home to about 60 residents and most are from Frankfort. She said that “it’s been hard” on staff members too, as they would make quick runs to Pic-Pac themselves.
South Frankfort Neighborhood Association President David Stumbo said Pic-Pac was part of the “local flavor” for many residents, not just in the neighborhood, but also across the river. It was convenient to walk or bike to the store or to just send kids to pick up a missing ingredient for a meal.
He did not know an exact percentage of residents who are mainly pedestrians, but he estimated that many who live in the area do not have their own transportation to drive out of the neighborhood for groceries. Lower-income residents relied on Pic-Pac for their main groceries; other staples, like the meats, beer cheese and the deli, drew patrons from outside of the neighborhood.
“There’s something missing from South Frankfort, all of downtown Frankfort,” Stumbo said.
What does downtown need?
According to an unscientific online poll of State Journal readers in June, about 27% of respondents said that they would regularly shop at a store that would replace Pic-Pac. The most popular answer on the poll was “depends on price and quality,” with about 37% of the vote. About 14% of those who participated in the poll said that they would not shop at such a place, preferring other existing grocers in Franklin County.
The City of Frankfort was awarded one of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “Local Food, Local Places” grants earlier this year. The grant is given to communities that want to foster local food economies. The city applied for this grant before Pic-Pac announced that it would close, and a group that is working on the grant is working to implement several goals and initiatives to address access to food in Frankfort. Related to the lack of a downtown grocery, one goal is determining the feasibility of providing a retail food option for locally produced fresh foods.
Any potential Downtown Frankfort grocers look at the demographics in the area as any service provider does, said Terri Bradshaw, Kentucky Capital Development Corp. president. According to the last U.S. Census, over 27,000 people live in Frankfort and the median household income is around $45,000. On paper, there isn’t much of a draw for potential new grocers. However, there’s an unusual caveat with Frankfort’s demographics that aren’t seen in the numbers: an unaccounted number of people who work in Frankfort on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and support local businesses but don't reside in the city.
In recent months, KCDC has reached out to about 14 businesses, including corporations, small businesses and existing retailers in Frankfort, Bradshaw said. Trader Joe’s was on the list, but it did not show interest because the area’s demographics did not meet the company’s criteria. Trader Joe’s did not respond to a request for comment for this article.
Bradshaw said she has also discussed possible legislation with state Rep. Joe Graviss, D-Versailles, that would create incentives for grocers to open up shop in Kentucky’s food deserts.
“We may not need to re-create, but use what already exists,” Bradshaw said.
Bradshaw named other possible solutions to Downtown Frankfort’s lack of food access, such as using a mobile grocery bus similar to the one Kroger uses to reach some Louisville neighborhoods or partnering with an existing store in the area, such as Brothers’ Little Mart or the Dollar General on Holmes Street, to stock fresh food for customers.
Marty Johnson, the developer for Parcels B and C in Downtown Frankfort, told The State Journal recently that a supermarket is on his list of possibilities for the former Capital Plaza land. Bradshaw and Stumbo both said that with that future development on the parcels, investors might be more interested in opening a grocery store.
Stumbo said that he would like the City of Frankfort to add finding a replacement grocery store to its current list of priorities, though he realizes that list is already long. In addition to providing fresh produce, the replacement should offer some basic sundries, like diapers and cough medicine, he said, and be in South Frankfort.
South Frankfort businessman Charles Booe bought the former Pic-Pac property on Second Street a few months ago. While he would like to see a grocery store in the building, the property has many potential uses, he said. He’s had interest from a catering business and a kid-zone place. He also expects the strength of the Pic-Pac location to increase after the Second Street TIGER project is implemented.
“I think there are many possibilities,” Booe said of the location.
As for the downtown area, Booe said that there is a “definite need” for a full grocery.