Garrison Coward oversees Gov. Youngkin’s Partnership for Petersburg initiative – photo contributed to the Progress-Index

by James C. Sherlock

I have written in this space many times about the struggles of Petersburg.

Petersburg is blessed in one way.

The Progress-Index’s Bill Atkinson and Joyce Chu may be the best pair of local news reporters working in Virginia.

Mr. Atkinson, in a series of reports, has detailed the continuing struggles of that city to get a grocery store downtown.

The big grocers surround the center of the city in more prosperous, safer areas but have not entered there.

Food Markets in Petersburg courtesy of Bing Maps

It is no secret why. Poverty and crime do not attract retailers vulnerable to shoplifting and worse. And Petersburg is among the poorest and most crime-ridden in Virginia.

A recent Petersburg solicitation for interest in building a grocery store downtown drew no bidders.

The Governor has a broad Partnership for Petersburg initiative to help Petersburg help itself  It is run by Garrison Coward, an external-affairs senior advisor to Gov. Youngkin.

He reports that the Governor is “hell-bent” on seeing a grocery store built there.

I will offer an idea.

Why Petersburg? Public Health and Food Insecurity. Petersburg has the worst rated public health in Virginia, both in health outcomes and in the factors that support health. County Health Rankings by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute are an official reference offered by the Virginia Department of Health.

Hopewell and Emporia are tied for next worst. Go here for more information.

Southside and the coalfields have the worst problems for the percentage of children in food insecurity.

Using that link, the two locations I found with the highest percentages of food insecure children in Virginia were Petersburg (38.6%) and Hopewell (33.8%).

Food Insecure children, percent by county, Feeding America 2020 – Petersburg Virginia

Food Lion. Food Lion is by far the largest grocer in Virginia with 278 locations here.



Food Lion also has a robust non-profit hunger-relief initiative, Food Lion Feeds, which has pledged to double its meals distributed to 1.5 billion between now and 2025.

Regional charity partner. The Food Lion Feeds regional partner in the Petersburg area is Feed More, headquartered in Richmond.

Feed More already supports charitable pantries on Commerce Street, E. Washington St. and South Crater Road shown on the map.

Map courtesy of Feed More.  Pointers with white dots represent Feed More locations.

The area targeted for the new grocery store is shown in the downtown just west of Alt 301 in the Halifax Triangle and Downtown Commercial Historic District.

Local support. Petersburg hosts a significant number of churches. Their pastors and congregations will be interested in both the grocery store and the charitable support Food Lion Feeds can offer.

Local residents would be doubly invested in the success of the store.

City and community leaders, local pastors and non-profits would see the value and spread the word, increasing naturally the external security that the city would offer.

Bottom line. I offer above an idea that can both provide a grocery store and stock new food pantries in an area of desperate need for both.

The governor’s office is already working on its own plan, and it may prove superior to the one I offer.

But properly approached by the governor’s office and with external security guarantees and location support from Petersburg, Food Lion could prove interested in a way to combine its retail business with its hunger-relief initiative, and do well while doing good.

And it would certainly fill a desperate need.

Update Mar 3 at 14:30. In response to reader challenges, I have provided a new section “Why Petersburg?  Public Health and Food Insecurity.”

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


34 responses to “Feeding Petersburg”

  1. Hamilton Lombard Avatar
    Hamilton Lombard

    The Partnership for Petersburg is commendable but also a bit curious given that a number of other counties and cities in Virginia, mostly in Southwest, have higher poverty rates (as of 2021) and shorter life expectancies (per VDH’s estimates) than Petersburg.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      SW Virginia is poor, but overall it does not match for desperation measures public health, schools, crime and poverty data that I have seen for Petersburg. That is why the governor chose Petersburg.

      1. Hamilton Lombard Avatar
        Hamilton Lombard

        Petersburg doesn’t make it to the top (or bottom) of the 2021 ACS or SAIPE poverty estimates, VDOE’s 2022 cohort reports, VDH’s life expectancy estimates or the State Police reports. Petersburg certainly could use some help but if ” public health, schools, crime and poverty data” were the metrics, other localities, such as Danville would be part of the partnership.

        1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
          James C. Sherlock

          I added for you and Mr. Rand – “Why Petersburg?”

          1. Stephen Haner Avatar
            Stephen Haner

            Sherlock, you do know who you are arguing with, don’t you? He’s less than half our age, but I’ll listen to him on this topic, not you. Do they teach anything other than arrogance at UVA? (Well, he went there so I guess so.)

          2. James C. Sherlock Avatar
            James C. Sherlock

            You clearly care. I don’t.

            Sniping at the Governor’s program from the grounds of UVA is hardly a surprise. It represents academic navel gazing at best.

  2. Atlas Rand Avatar
    Atlas Rand

    So two points:
    1) I’m surprised to see you speaking so glowingly of Ms. Chu. She styles her self as the “social-justice reporter”and much of her writing is easily debunked hogwash. Exactly what you would expect from someone of that ilk.

    2) Are you familiar with the area beyond google maps? The area proposed is not appropriate for a grocery store, particularly a chain grocery store. It also doesn’t make sense for Food Lion to have another location “downtown”. It is less than 5 minutes by car from Washington Street down Sycamore to the Crater Road Food Lion. The whole concept of food deserts is laughable, by the technical distance of 1 mile urban and 10 miles rural. For example, I’m not within 10 miles of any town or established area. I’m in a rural food desert, one that will likely never be changed, because it would be nonsensical for a grocery store to be within 10 miles of me. Similarly, in urban areas the 1 mile threshold is so low as to be meaningless.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      If it is laughable, take it up with the city. I labeled on one of the maps the location that the city is offering for the grocery store. Not my idea, the mayor’s.

      Petersburg has the worst public health in Virginia. Don’t object if people try to help them, especially the kids. I certainly don’t apologize for it.

      My next article is to be about food deserts in other areas of Virginia. I have already built the maps. So you are getting ahead of me.

    2. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      “Someone of that ilk.” She does outstanding investigative reporting on issues of poverty and exploitation of the poor in that region. I wish reporting on rural areas had the same.

      1. Atlas Rand Avatar
        Atlas Rand

        Well we will have to agree to disagree about her reporting chops and focus. When is openly a SJW, I tend to tune out the lunacy.

    3. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      I added a new section. See “Why Petersburg? Public Health and Food Insecurity.”

      1. Atlas Rand Avatar
        Atlas Rand

        I disagreed with your assertion that Food Lion is a proper fix and for the location of a new store. I also posited that in my opinion “food deserts” are inherently flawed in how they are defined and not that important. I’m hardly spreading misinformation…

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          I agree. That assertion from Sherlock is uncalled-for IMO. Both of your points are on point IMO.

          Businesses/private sector makes pragmatic economic decisions whether it’s a Food Lion, a WalMart of a Dollar General or 7-11 or for that matter a McDonalds which you will find in many places that no grocery chain will locate.

  3. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    I commend you for your interest in Petersburg. However, it is not clear to me what you are proposing. If it is another Food Lion store that would work with pastors to develop food pantries, why would Food Lion establish another store in this area? If it could be profitable, the company would have already done so. As for the food pantries, why couldn’t the churches work with Food Lion Feeds through one of its existing stores, as well as with FeedMore?

    1. Kathleen Smith Avatar
      Kathleen Smith

      Location and transportation. Most citizens with limited income that have no transportation have to ride two buses to get to the Food Lion or Walmart. This would put them near the bus station and need only one bus. There are two homes for the elderly (one a high rise and the other a pretty good size 3 floor warehouse) within walking distance. Try carrying four bags of groceries at 75 in poor health on four buses. Let alone need a wheelchair.


      1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
        Dick Hall-Sizemore

        I am not disputing the need. I would think that if there were a profit to be made, Food Lion would have opened a store there. I don’t understand why Jim Sherlock’s proposal would change things.

        1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
          James C. Sherlock

          Because Food Lion has two incentives, not one.

          The first is to make money, which is dependent upon security and product lineup.

          The second is to greatly expand their Food Lion Feeds program, and get social credit for doing so.

          Partnering with the mayor and the governor in a high profile project such as this will bring favorable and high profile publicity to enhance the social credit.

          Again, I wrote this article to point out to the principals that Food Lion, and perhaps Food Lion alone, has those dual incentives.

          End of story until progressive critics of the governor, terrified that he might get credit for helping the Blackest city in Virginia, threw pennies on the tracks.

          They would suffer the slow starvation of children rather than interrupt their narrative that America is a racist country.

    2. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      Kathleen gave you an excellent answer. I will amplify it.

      First, the percentage of food insecure children in Petersburg is the highest in Virginia.

      In the category of “no article is long enough to satisfy skeptics and never will be”, I added a section “Why Petersburg? to answer attacks here (1) on the governor (and me) for picking Petersburg for his assistance program in general and (2) his and the mayor’s interest in feeding hungry children in particular.

      Some here have written that they do not think that those two gentlemen understand Petersburg’s absolute or relative needs as well as they do.

      I somehow failed to anticipate that, so I added the new section. Some will bleat on, but so be it.

      Second, Food Lion primarily stocks food banks from its local stores. It does not have enough local stores in the Petersburg area to begin to meet demand. And they are not located in the right places to serve that demand, nor are any others.

      Third, no major grocer has located in that area because primarily of safety, and the mayor will have to satisfy them that he will provide police presence for external security to augment store security.

      As for profitability, any store in the proposed location will accept a lot of food stamps.

      Stores are reimbursed for both the full amount of the purchase and an administrative fee, so profit is there on food stamps.

      The store will need to be stocked to meet demand in that location, but this is not Food Lion’s first rodeo in poor areas.

      Bottom line, give the mayor and the governor credit for knowing what they are doing.

      My only contribution was to enlighten the public and add the information on Food Lion’s interest in growing its Food Lion Feeds charitable program, which may not yet have surfaced in the discussions between the administration and the city.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        this “approach”, bringing the govt into the private sector borders on socialism, no? Most business entities know what it takes to operate profitably and choose locations based on demographics and that profit premise.

        Stores close all the time that failed to meet that expectation.

        The govt ought not to be “helping” to operate free market enterprises for the most part and certainly not for things like “the poor starving children” idea and especially so just for one place, as opposed to a state-level program for all such places.

        Kids get two meals a day at the school plus take-home stuff if they qualify.

        Anyone who has been to a food pantry knows what the clientele looks like and while there are some children there, it’s often older folks , seniors and singles down on their luck.

        If Youngkin was really serious and not engaging in a political stunt, he would propose state level law and regulation so that any/all areas of Virginia who had “poor starving children” could get state level help.

        There is no honor in picking ONE locality that has needs while ignoring others with similar needs. It’s more PR than anything else IMO.

        There is no “fear” that Youngkin will benefit from it. Indeed it will seen as a kind of faux-woke favoritism.

        1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
          James C. Sherlock

          Absolutely astonishing.

  4. Kathleen Smith Avatar
    Kathleen Smith

    The area you describe is West Petersburg. It has a mix of economically disadvantaged and middle class. I am not sure where you would build a Food Lion in the area you have suggested at the corner of Halifax and Washington St. However, the bus station is close by.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      The mayor has offered the location in the place annotated on one of the maps. Read about it in Atkinson’s linked article.

      Food Lion is the obvious choice. Their ability to link the store to nearby food pantries makes the combination a natural.

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    So there are plenty of places in rural Virginia where it is 20 miles or more to even a small grocery store so I’m puzzled how a “food desert” is actually defined in terms of geography,

    There are places out west and in Canada where it’s 50-100 miles to a grocery and no fresh food at all. Just dry/boxed/canned and frozen. No produce or fresh meat.

    There are WalMarts out west that have no produce – and no fresh meat. Been there…

    In Fredericksburg , the Food Pantry “reaches” the rural areas with mobile pantries and pantries at the schools if there is no church than can sponsor.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      Food insecurity is the most common measure.

      The USDA defines food insecurity as the lack of enough food (of sufficient nutrition value) for every person in a household to lead an active, healthy life.

      The availability of transportation and safety can be more important than distance.

      I provide a link to those data in the article update.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        I would think distance and transportation are connected. Rural geography combined with economically disadvantaged would seem to be as important as urban with little or no public transportation options. Rural also has little or no public transportation. Schools, wherever they are,
        are natural places for food to find it’s way to those in need, kids and household. In rural areas, it’s
        elderly folks who lack both food and medical care . I’m just dubious of the construct.

  6. The article mentions no businesses expressed an interest in opening a food store in Petersburg. Apart from local political issues and community priorities, there is the practical consideration of trying to persuade businesses of the economic feasibility. One source of information about the economics of supermarket and grocery store locations (including some comments on the issue of food deserts) is a USDA publication available at

  7. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    Dollar General and Family Dollar are most likely the closest thing to a grocer in the older parts of Petersburg. Maybe the answer lies with them. DG and FD have been known for upgrading some locations to offer items such as fresh fruits and vegetables. Of course, DG and FD have a reputation of overcharging the poor. Simple things like a 3 oz can of potted meat cost too much. Family Dollar 1 can is a buck. Food Lion is no better at 92 cents a can.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      Agree. DG and other brand variants offer shelf-stable food (nutritious food) as well as frozen and some even some limited produce. They are the “right”size IMO. A full size, full service grocery cannot make it financially in places where DG can.

    2. LarrytheG Avatar

      I don’t know about you but I compare prices and DG is cheaper than Walmart on quite a few items. The problem with more than a few DGs that I’ve seen is that they look like a bomb has gone off in the aisles.

    3. CJBova Avatar

      Food Lion here runs specials on often bought items, like 5 lbs of potatoes for $2.50 and chicken for 99 cents to $1.50 a pound. They have a 10 lb bag of chicken leg quarters for $8.90. We don’t have anything like that in our two DG’s. Food Lion is our only full grocery within 16 miles and does a lot with our food pantries.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        Some things folks who are not familiar with the current environment may not be aware of.

        We have Weis, Giant, Walmart, and others and all of them donate food to the regional food bank right now in addition to offering marked down food in the stores.

        This includes all products, cans, boxes, eggs, meats, produce, and bread, – most of it getting near to their end dates, some of it overstock, but they also “buy” case lots of things to send to the Food Bank which then distributes to local food pantries.

        The Food Bank also provides some to schools and deploys mobile pantry’s in the summer when school is out.

        USDA also provides the food bank with surplus products that can vary depending on what is “surplus”.

        Having a Food Lion in an area is not a substitute for the Regional Food Bank and no grocery company wants to put a full-service large format store where the demographics to support it are not there. They prefer to work with the existing services like Food Banks for the folks who are in need (who may also have EBT).

        What we no longer have that we used to have and places like NYC still have is smaller “mom & pop” bodegas and such.

        Looking JUST at Petersburg for these issues is not the same as looking statewide so that all places that share similar issues with Petersburg are also included in potential responses.

        Just doing Petersburg, smacks of politics IMO.

        1. CJBova Avatar

          The point is they have NO grocery in that area and there are a number of churches in the neighborhood who could help with food pantries. And there’s a bus station nearby for those without cars. It’s meaningless talking about other places, other cities when the need exists right there AND their mayor is willing to help make it happen. To wait to take care of every place means nothing happens. Walmart et al wiped out the mom & pop stores so that’s a moot point. If Petersburg can pull this off, they’ll be creating a model others can copy.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            No that’s not really the “point”. THe real point is the proper role of govt in issues like this, something conservatives used to be noted for but apparently no more. I trust the private sector grocery companies to know where and what size stores to put up. Even then, some of them go belly-up. I certainly don’t want the govt playing in that game especially when most grocery companies well-support Food Banks that are effective and cost effective at serving the food needs of communities.

            And I don’t want the govt coercing companies to do something that basically is a political PR thing which is what this is. Like many issues that affect localities statewide – Both the Govt and the GA do that all the time and we don’t want them favoring one locality over others for “special” treatment.

            If there are “poor starving children” that need “help” – we’re gonna ignore it except for one place?

            This is just bogus to the bone.

  8. Bubba1855 Avatar

    Nancy…please trash me…
    Yes, I know that there are a number issues regarding grocery stores in Richmond…I hate to say it but ‘I feel you pain’…
    I am sympathetic to the situation in Richmond. But the city, all departments, need to step up to the bar in addition to the community. Richmond is not alone nor unique to these issues.
    If the elected officials really want to change things they need to change the way they react to crime. Sorry…just my 2 cents, with no data to support my position.

Leave a Reply