Editor’s Note: You can watch the full press conference in the video player at the bottom of this article.
ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Following the announcement of Rite Aid closing its Portland Avenue location, Mayor Evans discussed a local grant program aimed at addressing issues of healthy food accessibility.
Mayor Evans was joined by Rochester City Council president Miguel Melendez and Dana Miller, Commissioner of the Department of Neighborhood and Business Development, to discuss the Healthy Food Grant Program.
The program, according to Mayor Evans, will provide investments worth $5 million to expand the services of existing food retailers to increase healthy options for Rochester residents.
“We’re done playing defense and we want to be on offense. This healthy food accessibility program allows us to play offense,” Evans said.
The program will be available for businesses such as neighborhood markets, meat markets, small-scale grocers, specialty food stores, and restaurants serving more nutritious options.
These businesses can apply for a Notice of Funding Availability and submit it before Friday, May 19 at 4 p.m.
“Store-after-store when we go inside, we see shelves full of salty chips, candy, and soft drinks. We don’t see vegetables and fruits,” Miller said. “Part of our goal here is to make that possible.”
This comes a little under one week after Rite Aid announced it will be closing its location on Portland Ave. The closure is scheduled for Wednesday. A spokesperson for the company said previously it’s due to several factors including business conditions, lease and rent, and store performance.
Mayor Evans said that the city worked in an attempt to keep the store open and that Rite Aid is obligated to inform the community before making the decision to close. He added that he is disappointed that the store is closing and that they were told at the last minute.
“Residents relied on this store for prescriptions, basic necessities, and school supplies. Stores like this one serve as an anchor to the community,” Evans said. “This is a disappointment to the community. It will have a devastating effect on the neighborhood that already has a scarce accessibility to food, poor health outcomes, and also high unemployment.”
Mayor Evans said that the city has resources and staff to help stores like Rite Aid stay and grow in Rochester.
With similar Rite Aids being shut down in urban neighborhoods in Buffalo, Monroe County Legislator Mercedes Vasquez Simmons shared her concerns.
“I was born and raised in this community and it’s very, very difficult to see most of the businesses are closed down. So, how do we keep businesses here? How do we allow our senior citizens to be able to pick up their pharmaceuticals or whatever needs they might have?” Vasquez Simmons said.
Some neighbors say they’re worried over the ripple effect the closure is expected to have on the Rochester community, including access to prescriptions and other necessities.
“There’s stores here, like Dollar Tree, but they don’t have the pharmacy. They need the pharmacy here to buy their medication,” said Joe Acao of Rochester.
“They’ll be overcrowded and overworked, and maybe they won’t be able to accommodate the whole community around this area,” said Maria Johnson of Rochester.