CINCINNATI — With three eager kids setting the pace, Great Grandma Peggy Harris makes sure she gets in her exercise.

What You Need To Know

  • Madisonville is a food desert in Cincinnati

  • Family Dollar is closing at the end of March, reducing access to food and household goods

  • Locals are calling on the city to give the store a reason to stay

  • Community Council is looking for options like farmer's markets or attracting a full-service grocer

"I do have four generations living in that home right now,” she said.

The Cincinnati woman has an almost daily routine. She makes the near-daily trip to the nearest store, a Family Dollar, for food or household goods.

“We always hear dogs on the way,” she said.

On most days, it's about a 10-minute round trip to the corner of Madison and Whetsel. But by the end of March, she'll have to look elsewhere.

The store announced in January it's closing, leaving families like Harris's wondering where they're supposed to get what they need.

“There's no shortage of stores for alcoholic beverages and cigarettes and stuff but for a basic family, like say, four generations, Family Dollar, is the only store we have that’s close,” she said.

Harris lives in the Madisonville neighborhood, which meets the USDA definition of an urban food desert.

An urban food desert is usually one with a significant low-income population, with little access to fresh, healthy food or grocery stores.

The USDA estimates 14% of Ohioans live in neighborhoods like this and Cincinnati that number jumps to 25%.

Stores like Family Dollar don't provide enough food options to change those statistics but Harris said it's the best option for her family.

The nearest full-service grocery store is about two miles from her home and like many in Madisonville, her family doesn't always have access to transportation.

“My vehicle is over 20 years old so it’s not always reliable," she said. "Sometimes my vehicle is in the shop.”

It's also the only car the multi-generational family has so if someone needs it for work or another errand, everyone else is on their own.

Harris said she recognizes she's luckier than some.

Dozens of customers walk to Family Dollar, employees too.

Alfreda Collins said she's worked at Family Dollar off and on since she was a teenager.

“I’m not looking out just for my job but I’m looking out for the people in the neighborhood, especially the elderly,” she said.

Collins said Family Dollar told her and other employees they can keep their jobs, but they'd be transferred to other locations.

For Collins that means at least one bus ride each way, more than doubling her commute time.

Family Dollar told Spectrum News, the company doesn't publicly explain why stores close.

But a Family Dollar spokesperson said Family Dollar considers a variety of reasons like rent increases, sale of property, or the end of a lease term.

Though Family Dollar wouldn't say what led to their decision, owners from other stores in the shopping complex said their rent has been rising steadily as nearby development projects build up.

Harris said there's a growing fear that if this continues, families like hers won't have a future in the neighborhood either.

She said she's lived in Madisonville for 21 years, but now her rent is rising, too, though her income isn't.

“Progress is expected," Harris said. "I understand progress but don’t leave the community out. Don’t leave us out.”

Harris and Collins joined a group of concerned Madisonville residents fighting to keep the Family Dollar. They have petitioned the city, which owns the property, to give the company a reason to stay.

“Every day that I’m in here, I’m talking to different people and they’re expressing the same thing. We need Family Dollar,” Collins said.

Cincinnati activist, Brian Garry from Neighborhoods United, amplified those voices and organized a few protests in front of the store.

"Madisonville should be shared by everyone, not just a few," Garry said. "And the people who shop at this store, their voices should be heard and respected."

The Madisonville Community Council said it's looking for solutions like a weekly farmers market in the spring and attracting another grocery retailer to the area.

But Harris said it's also important that whatever comes in provides residents with access to things like soap, toilet paper and other household staples; all things stores like a Family Dollar and a full-service grocer can provide.

“I don’t know if it would be feasible for a Kroger, but for the fresh produce and milk, I’d like to see something that’s good for us,” she said.