One of Houston's most notorious food deserts is about to get some irrigation thanks to a public-private partnership.
Local grocery chain Pyburn's Farm Fresh Foods will open its 12th store at the intersection of Scott Street and Corder to bring fresh food and vegetables to an underserved area. Houston Mayor Annise Parker joined council members Stephen Costello and Dwight Boykins, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and Pyburn's owner John Vuong at the site Monday morning to kick off the construction.
Vuong bought the property more than eight years ago with the intention to open a store on it eventually. Now, thanks to a $1.7 million dollar loan that makes use of Federal Community Development Block Grant funds, "my vision has become a reality," he says.
Boykins believes the new store will help the neighborhood he represents. He promises it "won't be selling no 40-ounces of Old English."
For Parker, combating food deserts represents one part of what she called a "holistic" approach to neighborhood development. Helping people get access to fresh food from a grocery store instead of processed food from a convenience store helps improve public health issues like diabetes and childhood obesity.
"If we don't do a better job of providing education on nutrition for kids, we'll have bigger problems down the road," Parker says.
As part of the agreement, the city ensured that neither liquor stores nor pay day loan providers could lease space in an adjacent center that's planned for the land, Parker adds.
Both Parker and Vuong emphasize the new Pyburn's will have the same overall quality and appearance as high-end grocery stores in wealthy neighbors. For his part, Vuoong promises to bring a "wow factor" to the development, which will be the first Pyburn's to be built new from the ground-up.
Council member Stephen Costello notes that the project will bring at least 25 jobs to the neighborhood. He shared that he met his wife when they both worked in a grocery store 40 years ago. While a H-E-B is only a 1.2 miles from the site at Scott and Old Spanish Trail, Costello says that distance is a challenge for people who rely on public transportation. Between walking to the bus stop and waiting for it to arrive, a trip that might only take 30 minutes total in a car could take an entire afternoon.
"This property means a lot to me," Council Member Dwight Boykins tells the crowd. "I grew up here. I lived in those apartments . . . I played football in this field." Boykins believes the new store will help the neighborhood he represents. He promises it "won't be selling no 40 ounces of Old English."
Citing a 4-year-old she met in the crowd as a symbol of who stands to benefit most from the new store, Jackson Lee says Pyburn's will bring "hope, determination and optimism" to the neighborhood.