City Beat

Grocery store brings fresh hope to Del Paso Heights

“At some point, it becomes a drag on the neighborhood when you look around and you can’t find any sort of brand retailer offering services to your community,” said Allen Warren, pictured, who grew up in the neighborhood and now represents it on the City Council.
“At some point, it becomes a drag on the neighborhood when you look around and you can’t find any sort of brand retailer offering services to your community,” said Allen Warren, pictured, who grew up in the neighborhood and now represents it on the City Council. jvillegas@sacbee.com

Something is about to happen in Del Paso Heights. It won’t be much to begin with, but it could mean something really big to a neighborhood where it’s always us-against-the-world.

A grocery store chain called Viva is planning to open a new shop in an empty building on Marysville Boulevard, right by the corner of Grand Avenue.

That intersection is the crossroads of the neighborhood. The large Urban League building is on one corner. Grant High is right down the street.

This is what you see when you stand in the parking lot of the future grocery store: five empty lots, all of them filthy; a corner market that sells a lot of booze; a store that says it has both live seafood and bait.

“At some point, it becomes a drag on the neighborhood when you look around and you can’t find any sort of brand retailer offering services to your community,” said Allen Warren, who grew up in the neighborhood and now represents it on the City Council. “You start to say, ‘What’s wrong with us?’”

Del Paso Heights is a proud neighborhood. Families stick around for generations. Sit in the bleachers of a Grant High football game on a Friday night and you’ll hear a pride that borders on anger – parents screaming at the team, even when they’re winning. Old-timers talking about the good old days that right now seem hard to imagine.

Richard Dana is the executive director of an organization called the Mutual Assistance Network, which does a lot of social and health-related work in Del Paso Heights and has a headquarters on Grand Avenue. To him, putting up a full-service grocery store in an area that has extremely limited options for fresh food is a jolt.

“Frankly, the city government hasn’t done a whole lot for this neighborhood the last 15 years,” Dana said. “There’s a chip on the shoulder, a feeling that, ‘You’ve never helped us out, we’re going to do it ourselves.’

“And we’re hoping this is a catalyst moment.”

Dana and Warren said Del Paso Heights is a “food desert,” an area void of fresh and affordable options. Warren also said his is the only council district in the city without a name-brand grocery retailer. That means residents of Del Paso Heights have to drive miles if they want the kind of service most others take for granted.

They have so much else going against them up there. While crime rates have fallen, they are still among the highest in the city. About one-third of the families live in poverty. The average family makes only about $30,000 a year.

And so Warren, Dana and other activists worked hard to recruit Viva, a small local chain. It’s a start. Maybe more development will follow at the crossroads of Del Paso Heights. And maybe the view will finally catch up with how the neighborhood views itself.

Call The Bee’s Ryan Lillis, (916) 321-1085. Read his City Beat blog at sacbee.com/citybeat.

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