Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation plans new community grocery store

Editor's note: A prior version of this story contained an incorrect last name for the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation's interim executive director. Her name is Betty Winters Waite. WCPO regrets this error.

CINCINNATI -- Walnut Hills residents could soon have a grocery store within walking distance for the first time in over a year.

Every day since the March 2017 closure of the East McMillan Street Kroger has been difficult for some of the neighborhood's residents, whose home became a food desert when Cincinnati's hometown grocery chain gutted the underperforming location and left nothing but several hundred square feet of scuffed tile behind.

"It was so important to have it," resident Danny Haynes said. "We have to have our Kroger so we can survive and feed our family."

Haynes, who said he had a leg amputated shortly before the closure, uses a wheelchair and relies on others to drive him to his grocery shopping. Many other residents have similar stories. Those who lack consistent access to cars must bike, use public transportation -- and use precious grocery money in the process -- or depend on friends to take them to a grocery store.

The Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation plans to use a recently awarded $100,000 grant to put one back within reach.

Interim executive director Betty Winters Waite knew shortly after they won the grant that a grocery store should be their first priority, she said.

"Nothing really prepared us for the impact of when (Kroger) actually left," she said. "And the transportation that was required and the frustration of our residents."

The organization has already purchased the empty building, healthy outreach coordinator Gary Dangel added. Now, he and others need to work on filling it up.

"We've dubbed it the Peebles Corner Grocery, with a nod to Peebles Corner, (which) was once the second downtown," he said.

What happens next? One hundred thousand dollars, although impressive, do not a complete grocery store make. Dangel, Winters Waite and others plan to meet with design firms to help them map out the space's second act and continue applying to grants they hope will help them provide more comprehensive services. At the $100,000 price point, the store they can afford will be more like a "mini grocery."

In the meantime, further down East McMillan Street, another tarnished Walnut Hills institution is in the middle of its own makeover. The Paramount Theater, once the most iconic feature of Peebles Corner, will soon become the home of apartments, retail spaces and the city's first-ever minority-owned brewery.

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