Westside sets sights on grocery

Westside sets sights on grocery

March 6th, 2011 by Yolanda Putman in News

Staff Photo by Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press Chris Brooks, second from right, leader of Chattanooga Organized for Action, talks with Caleb George, left, Gloria Griffith and Leroy Griffith, right, on Grove Street in the Westside.

With the help of Chattanooga Organized for Action, Westside residents are making a united effort to get a grocery store in their community.

"They're not waiting for change to come from the outside. They're making it happen from within," said COA organizer Chris Brooks.

The organization's goal is to have active resident councils up and running at all eight public housing and subsidized housing sites in the Westside by the end of summer.

Then the resident councils collectively will plan to bring a grocery store to the area, Brooks said. That could happen within two years after residents have formed a plan, he said.

"We're finding leaders already there and giving them resources needed to determine their future," Brooks said.

In December, hundreds of Westside residents and supporters marched to draw attention to the need for a neighborhood grocery.

Dogwood Manor resident Adair Darland said it's 11/2 miles to the nearest store, Buehler's Market, a difficult trip for some residents.

"A mile and a half is pretty far for people in their wheelchairs or walking," said Darland. "Even if you get to the store, you can't carry very much walking back."

About 3,500 people reside in the Westside community and about one-third are over age 50, records show.

"There's no grocery store, no police precinct, no emergency clinic of any kind, none of the infrastructures that other areas of town take for granted," said Darland.

The last store in the community, Dollar General, closed last fall. The store had opened about a decade ago as an anchor in Grove Street Center, providing residents with a laundromat, police precinct, restaurant and hair salon.

In 2008, New York-based Countrywide Associates purchased Grove Street Center for $360,000 and promised a store, but it never happened, records show.

Chattanooga Organized for Action is a community activist group with about 200 volunteer members. The group, which formed in April 2010, is best known for its unsuccessful effort last year to recall Mayor Ron Littlefield.

Dogwood Manor resident Roxann Larson said the COA has provided guidance for the Westside community.

"They've actually helped us build a resident council from the ground up," Larson said.

After having no governing body for more than a year, Dogwood Manor residents are scheduled to elect officers to the resident council on March 17.

Brooks said COA next will try to organize a resident council at College Hill Courts.

College Hill has a council with elected officers, but not much resident participation, said resident Doris Conner, a former College Hill council president.

"If they [COA] can get the people to be a part of it, it sure would be nice," she said.