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Are Poor Neighborhoods Retail Deserts?

Jenny Schuetz, Jed Kolko and Rachel Meltzer
Poor urban neighborhoods have been labeled “food deserts” with few grocery stores and mainly fast food restaurants. Alternatively, according to popular media and a few academic studies, the arrival of upscale eateries and “boutique” shopping venues is one of the most visible signs of a shift in a neighborhood’s income or demographics. Certainly some formerly low-income neighborhoods that have been gentrified, such as New York’s Lower East Side or San Francisco’s Mission District, now are known for their trendy shops, restaurants and bars. Collectively, anecdotes suggest that retail establishments are more prevalent in affluent neighborhoods than poor ones. However, highincome households may not view all types of retail as amenities: big box stores, for example, have incurred local opposition.