When 60-year-old Dreema Jackson needs supplies for a household project, shoes or clothes, she has to spend hours on the bus traveling to the East End or Southern Indiana.
“There’s nowhere down here I can buy clothes or shoes,” said Jackson, a former school teacher who lives in western Louisville’s California neighborhood. “If there’s a problem with my cell phone, I have to go out to Shively to the AT&T store. I just can’t find what I need down here.”
Like Jackson, thousands of West End residents take their money out of the community. In fact, a four-month study commissioned by OneWest — a nonprofit dedicated to economic development in the area — estimates about $217 million in retail spending flows elsewhere.
“It gets on my nerves if I want to just run out and grab something real quick,” Jackson said. “If you like to go out to get a meal, there’s nowhere to sit down. There’s no movie theater. You basically have to take your money elsewhere.”
The study estimates that West End residents spend roughly $475 million each year on retail, including $114 million on food and beverages; $54.5 million on building and gardening; $34.4 million on clothing and accessories; and $13.3 million on furniture and home furnishing. Jennifer Recktenwald, OneWest’s interim director, said those findings surprised many residents during OneWest’s community conversations with residents this past month.
“For folks who really want to keep their dollars in their community — we all do — it’s disheartening to think I almost have no choice but to take my money elsewhere,” she said.
Recktenwald said the study, which was launched in May 2016 as part of OneWest’s strategic planning, is meant to underscore the viability of retail development for investors and demonstrate to OneWest’s partners that there is a consumer base in the area.
Examining western Louisville’s purchasing power comes as civic leaders, neighborhood organizations and city officials regroup after Wal-Mart canceled its plans for a store at 18th Street and Broadway. The city also is still picking up the pieces after the FoodPort proposal for 30th Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard fell through.
Mary Ellen Wiederwohl, chief of Louisville Forward — the city’s economic development arm — said it has received several inquiries from developers about the 24-acre former FoodPort site.
Her agency is working with the FoodPort’s community council — which elected to remain intact despite the food project’s demise — to ensure earlier cooperation between neighborhood leaders, developers and government on projects. Community ideas for that space include an athletic complex, food market and moving the veterans hospital there, she said.
Some residents had said there was little community involvement in both the Wal-Mart and FoodPort proposals. In the case of Wal-Mart, a handful of neighborhood leaders and preservationists filed suit against the design of the superstore.
“We have definitely learned to be better listeners,” Wiederwohl said, “and to have more of a community engagement process sooner.”
She said the city will continue to focus on its Choice Neighborhoods grant application to the federal housing department so it can revitalize the Russell neighborhood. Wiederwohl said that the FoodPort and Wal-Mart were part of the application, but that even with their loss the city remains confident after being named a finalist for the $29.5 million grant.
“I would not say that anything we are doing is a redrawing or a change from our direction,” she said. “We are continuing on our strategy of neighborhood redevelopment. Winning this Choice grant is very important to us.”
Recktenwald said OneWest wants to be part of a coalition that’s going to “advocate for something strong, that will be transformative for the community.”
And while there are signs of development — a sit-down restaurant called Fredricks is opening in St. Stephen Baptist Church’s family center, for example — some West End residents are unwilling to wait on promises of safer streets or the prospects of better quality housing or anchor retail businesses.
Census data show the West End’s population shrank 4 percent between 2000 and 2014. During that period, the rest of the city saw an 8 percent increase.
“Middle-class individuals such as myself don’t want to invest time, money and energy into residences or businesses in the West End,” said Keith Morgan, a TARC employee who lives in the Shawnee neighborhood with his wife and daughter.
Morgan, 46, a former Metro Council candidate, said he is planning to move from the area because of a rise in violent crime, city neglect and lack of private investment. He added that besides a lack of retail options, part of the reason that residents spend elsewhere is because they are frustrated with current retailers in the area.
“You have panhandling and crime that takes place outside these corner stores, and you have individuals who are afraid to patronize those businesses,” Morgan said. “I haven’t noticed anything new besides dollar stores, and people are tired of not being respected.”
Reporter Phillip M. Bailey can be reached at 502-582-4475 or firstname.lastname@example.org.