Prompted by a discussion earlier this week about chain supermarkets and food deserts, we figured it'd be interesting to see how supermarkets in the Capital Region are distributed geographically. It might give us a better sense of what sort of supermarket access there is for each part of the area.
The resulting map -- along with another map of officially designated food deserts -- and some quick discussion, after the jump.
Official food deserts
When we first started looking into this topic, we dug up this map of food deserts in the Capital Region:
The HFFI working group defines a food desert as a low-income census tract where a substantial number or share of residents has low access to a supermarket or large grocery store:
+ To qualify as a "low-income community," a census tract must have either: 1) a poverty rate of 20 percent or higher, OR 2) a median family income at or below 80 percent of the area's median family income;
+ To qualify as a "low-access community," at least 500 people and/or at least 33 percent of the census tract's population must reside more than one mile from a supermarket or large grocery store (for rural census tracts, the distance is more than 10 miles).
The USDA includes an economic angle in the definition, which makes sense. But its map doesn't address the whole picture -- and in, some cases, maybe even gives the wrong impression. For example: that census tract running along Central Ave in Albany may qualify as a food desert by that definition, but it includes (or borders) two (soon to be three) large supermarkets and the Honest Weight Food Co-op.
Capital Region supermarket distribution
So we made our own map by pulling the locations of supermarkets in the Capital Region and drawing a radius of one mile around each one. The map is embedded in large format at the top of this page -- scroll all the way up. You can click on each circle the see which supermarket it represents.
There are certainly limitations to this map (addressed below), but it does give a reasonably good sense of how Capital Region supermarkets are distributed geographically. And when compared to the USDA food desert map, it highlights that the Central Ave corridor in Albany isn't lacking for supermarket access. But it also matches up with some of the the other deserts identified: specifically, north Albany and a large stretch of Schenectady.
A few quick observations
+ Wow, there are a lot of supermarkets in the Capital Region. And they tend to cluster around each other. That probably shouldn't be surprising -- if you're going to build a supermarket, you want it in a high traffic area along a major corridor. There are only so many of those spots.
+ Niskayuna may be the supermarket capital of the Capital Region -- it has 7 different supermarkets whose 1-mile radius overlaps at least part of the town. (Though Albany -- with the soon-to-open ShopRite -- isn't far behind.)
+ Price Chopper takes a lot of flack from people around here, but it probably doesn't get enough credit for is its willingness to keep small supermarkets open in areas that wouldn't otherwise be served by them. For example: the Delaware Ave Chopper in Albany. Sure, it's not the nicest store -- but if it closed, a large part of Albany that includes many low-income people would no longer be within a 1-mile radius of a supermarket. The same goes for other spots, too: Price Chopper operates stores in areas of Watervliet and Menands that would otherwise be devoid of supermarkets.
+ Conversely, Hannaford is sort of like the exurban Price Chopper. It operates supermarkets in spots toward the edge of the Capital Region's core that otherwise wouldn't have have close access to a store -- including spots such as Vorheesville, West Sand Lake, Ravena (through Shop N Save), and Schaghticoke.
Limitations and caveats
+ Stores included in this survey: Price Chopper, Hannaford, Walmart, ShopRite, Aldi, Save-A-Lot, Honest Weight, Niskayuna Co-op, Greulich's. It's very possible we missed some of the independent stores. And we didn't include the Targets that now offer groceries. We also did not include smaller places that offer groceries, like a Cardona's.
+ We only included stores in the core counties of the Capital Region, so the makes the edges look especially bare because stores in the nearby counties aren't represented.
+ We didn't differentiate between the really huge, posh supermarkets and the smaller, old-school kind.
+ Another significant limitation: the map doesn't take into account the fact that almost everyone toward the edge of the core probably has a car. Drawing a 1-mile radius around stores in those sorts of areas probably only has limited value.
+ The map also doesn't take into account the "transportation geography" of the area. Sure, a store may be more than a mile from someone, but if there's good access via public transit, that's less of an issue.
+ Here's the link to the listing and geo data.
+ Of course, we always welcome corrections or suggestions.
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