Concerns over food access in Detroit after east side grocery store burns down

Posted at 10:44 PM, Feb 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-21 23:12:03-05

DETROIT (WXYZ) — A Detroit grocery store was destroyed after going up in flames Saturday night.

Harper Food Center, near Harper and Chalmers on the east side of Detroit, burned to the ground in a matter of hours.

“They've been in business for years, it’s definitely an anchor for this community,” said Dave Fornell, Deputy Fire Commissioner with the Detroit Fire Department.

Detroit firefighters knew this was more than just a building, and did their best to defend it. However the fire was too much.

“It already started engulfing the ceiling areas, the beams that supported the roof and everything else so we pulled our people off and did what we call a defensive attack,” Fornell said.

The fire spread quickly, with massive flames coming from the roof. By the time the fire was put out, the store was gone.

"Here you have a viable business that was supplying the community with fresh food, necessities, that kind of thing. Now it’s gone,” Fornell said.

“They're gonna miss this store right here. I'm gonna miss working here,” said Grace Jones, who says she worked as a cashier at the store for 3 years.

Now, Jones no longer has a job, and neighbors no longer have a grocery store.

“You know it’s convenient for around here," Jones said. "It's the only store for a couple miles down that way and that way.”

“We need to make sure our neighbors, our friends and family are taken care of over there,” said Chef Phil Jones, Chief Culinary Officer for "Farmacy Foods."

Jones is a local chef and activist who works to fight food insecurity in the City. He says he visited Harper Food Center a few times before, and was happy with their selection of affordable fresh produce.

Now, that selection is gone. Even with other grocery stores a few miles away, many Detroiters lack transportation. Long walks are made even more difficult by the cold, snowy weather.

“You’d actually be surprised how many people walk to the store," Jones said. "Now we’re going to find these folks walking to the convenience stores where the selection of fresh fruits and vegetables is practically zero.”

Firefighters say the store closed at 8:00 p.m. Saturday, and caught fire just after 9:00 p.m. They are still combing over evidence, but right now all they know is that this store will be missed.

“It's going to really have an impact on the community," Fornell said. "The people who shop here, get their groceries and necessities here, are going to have to go a lot farther to get what they need."