City of Rochester invests $2M in accessible healthy food as Rite Aid prepares to close

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Many of the city’s 200,000 residents live in food deserts, neighborhoods where options to buy grocery items are limited.

Now, the City of Rochester is targeting $2 million in a push to make healthy food more available. Mayor Malik Evans says the city wants to partner with businesses that see Rochester as an asset and offer healthy, quality food options.

“One thing we’re not going to do is beg. The residents of Rochester shouldn’t have to beg to have healthy food accessibility,” Evans said. “We should not have to beg to have pharmacies in our neighborhoods and isn’t it a shame that some of our neighborhoods feel as though they have to beg but we’re not going to because we feel as though we should not have to.”

The city is making $2 million in grants available to businesses so they can sell more nutritious foods. The money will come out of a $5 million investment that the city already made in addressing food deserts. The funds are part of the using American Rescue Plan Act.

“This financial assistance will be available to a wide variety of businesses, neighborhood markets, meat markets, small scale grocers, specialty food stores, whole sellers, and restaurants that focus on healthy foods or that are looking to sell healthy, affordable grocery or specialty items,” Evans said.

In two days, the Rite Aid on Portland Avenue will close, which is causing concern for neighbors who rely on it for food and prescriptions.

Evans said the announcement is disappointing, especially coming just months after Walgreens pulled out of the 19th Ward.

“I want businesses in our community to hear me when I say this. We want to collaborate and work with any of you that need the city’s help so we can avoid having surprises like this in the future,” Evans said.

He fears this latest closure will have a detrimental impact on a neighborhood that does not have a grocery store. Other retailers that sell food are blocks away.

“We are invested in making sure that we bring assets and amenities to our community,” said City Council President Miguel Melendez. “And to lose one at this time, at such an important intersection in our community Clifford and portland avenue, it’s painful.”

The grants will total between $25,000 and $250,000. Applications are accepted through Friday, May 19. You can learn how to apply through the city’s website here.

In the meantime, city leaders hope that Rite Aid will reconsider closing. Evans says the city would love to see stores like Aldi and Tops build in Rochester. Also, the city will help caterers and food trucks who are looking to establish a brick-and-mortar location.

Evans says the city is looking at how to use urban farmers to help get access to more urban fruits and vegetables. The city currently has a garden initiative to plant more gardens on city-owned lots to get more fresh foods in the neighborhoods.