Is Downtown Albion a Food Desert?

Is Downtown Albion a Food Desert?

You may have heard of the term ‘food desert’ before, but what does it mean exactly? If you look up a quick definition on Google, a food desert is an area that has limited access to affordable and nutritious food. This leads to the big question: is downtown Albion a food desert?

A New Downtown Market is not a Mirage

One could argue that downtown Albion is a food desert. There was no market selling nutritious foods in that part of town. According to a 2016 United States Department of Agriculture survey, Calhoun County had 5 to 10 percent of the population without a vehicle that did not have a supermarket within a mile of their residence. For reference, only eight other counties had equal to or worse percentages of the population in that category in Michigan. But that has started to change recently with respect to Albion. On December 31st, 2021, a new food market store named Superior Street Mercantile opened its doors. It offers fresh, organic produce, dairy products, and items for patrons who are lactose intolerant and on gluten-free diets. Many of the foods Superior Street Mercantile sell cannot be found in greater Albion, let alone the downtown district.

The Costs

Though Superior Street Mercantile offers many nutritious foods, the other side of the coin is affordability. According to the 2020 census, around 32% of the Albion population lives under the poverty line. Another characteristic of a food desert is that they are usually inhabited by low-income residents, some of whom do not have adequate transportation. Albion residents closer to the north side have Family Fare for fresh foods. But the store is not within walking distance, especially for carrying groceries in bad weather.

The south side of Albion did not have a store that provided healthier foods at a reasonable price for quite a long time — until Superior Street Mercantile appeared. In addition, Superior Street Mercantile accepts the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) bridge card, helping low-income residents afford groceries in the store.

It is key for Superior Street Mercantile to have its products reasonably priced with a range of affordability. In another study from the United States Department of Agriculture, the prices of food have more of an effect on consumption behavior in areas that see above-average poverty rates. This means the cost of food and the average income has to find a compromise.

Here’s a great example: In 2013, a Whole Foods Market store opened in an area of Detroit that had a third of the population living under the poverty line. Whole Foods is known to have higher prices than its competitors, so in order to be accessible to the local residents, that particular store offered lower prices than other Whole Foods stores. Had that store not lowered its prices to meet the income level of the residents, that area in Detroit would probably still be considered a food desert since the residents could not have afforded to patronize it.


Superior Street Mercantile is a change for the better in Albion. It is a business that is providing these kinds of foods to those who had a difficult time accessing them, a business that downtown Albion has not had for a long time.