Council members approved funds for PL Holdings, which owns and operates other Royal Blue Grocery stores in Dallas, to support the business. The company originally applied for the loan amount and a matching $350,000 grant as well, but council member Chad West, who represents the district in which the business will be located, said the original proposal wasn't equitable and upset a number of area residents. He worked with community members to rework the agreement according to community concerns.
"Our community is not a place where there's a Starbucks on every corner," Marco Villegas told the City Council at Wednesday's vote.
Villegas is concerned that rapid economic development in the area will raise rents and force long-term local businesses to close, leaving only large chains able to afford rent in the area.
The area near the grocery store has long been a working class and largely immigrant community, but it's starting to shift, he said. As that change happens, he implored the City Council to help maintain a sense of balance in the community and take care of long-term residents.
"We need equity. We need to support businesses that have been left behind for a long time." — Marco Villegas
"We need equity," he said. "We need to support businesses that have been left behind for a long time."
The new store will be located at 634 W. Davis St. in Oak Cliff, a prime location because of its proximity to the Bishop Arts District and other popular Oak Cliff areas, said Zac Porter, one of the Dallas area Royal Blue Grocery owners. Construction is scheduled to conclude by March 2021, as long as the grocer accepts the City Council's revision of their original application.
Porter hopes the store's presence will encourage other small business development in the area. The new store will hire for nearly 30 jobs.
As part of his amendments to the original proposal, West required the grocer to hold job recruitment sessions, advertise them and to pay new hires a minimum of $15 an hour. He also added several other community-focused requirements, including that 10% of staple foods at the grocer be sold at affordable prices in line with other stores in Oak Cliff and that the grocer support a community garden nearby.
Much of Oak Cliff is considered a food desert — with a dearth of accessible, affordable food — and the new store may help ease the situation a bit. As reported by D Magazine, many Oak Cliff grocery stores have closed in the last few years.
“We have a major issue as relates to food deserts in the southern part of the city, and efforts like this are definitely needed," said council member Casey Thomas.
The grocery chain has three other locations in Dallas and several in Austin. Each one carries a mixture of basics like mustard and ketchup and more specialty items, hot coffee, prepared food and local items.
In Dallas, Royal Blue Grocery stores carry more than 50 local brands like produce from Bonton Farms, Cake Bar baked goods and Five Mile Chocolate.
A community meeting last month to discuss the grocery store turned contentious with strong divisions. With the changes to the original proposal, West said he hopes the community can now move forward.
"This is an opportunity to bring new jobs to the district," he said.