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Pyburn to open signature grocery store in Houston's South Union “food desert”

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Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (right) Council Member Stephan Costello at Groundbreaking Ceremony on Corder Street near Scott June 30 2014
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (right) Council Member Stephan Costello at Groundbreaking Ceremony on Corder Street near Scott June 30 2014
Marc Pembroke
Council Member Costello, Dev. Dir Ratcliffe, Mayor Parker at groundbreaking June 30 2014
photo by Marc Pembroke

On Monday, June 30, Mayor Annise Parker held a groundbreaking ceremony on Corder Street near Scott at the future site of a new signature Pyburn grocery store to serve the South Union neighborhood, one of Houston's “food deserts.” Long-time residents some age 75 or more, stated that for more than 5 there were always only small convenience stores in the area. The property to be developed was a vacant lot.

Mayor Parker stated that the $4 million project was a joint effort by the City of Houston's Housing and Commnity Development Department, John Vuong, owner of the Pyburn's Food Market, and many other stakeholders. The City of Houston helped with $1.5 million, and some of the funding came from a federal Community Development Block Grant, thanks to assistance from Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tx 18). The Mayor explained her comprehensive approach to community development, addressing all aspects of the quality life, including the razing of dilapidated buildings, encouragement of local gardens, quality housing, and business development. She discussed the central importance of access to quality fresh produce in the health of a community. South Union, like many other under-served neighborhoods, now has high rates of diabetes and hypertension, compounding the cycle of poverty.

John Vuong, owner of the Pyburn grocery store chain, immigrated to Houston from Vietnam. He experienced the challenges of living in a “food desert” first hand, He began by purchasing troubled convenience stores and turning them around with better management. The Vuong family purchased the lot on Corder street 8 years ago. The new location will be his 12th store, but the first that he will design and build from the ground up. The plan is to provide locally grown organic fruits and vegetables, and create up to 25 new jobs.

Gabriella Mora, Project Manager of The Food Trust, also expressed support for the project and the importance of efforts to assure access to fresh produce. She then introduced Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, who emphasized the impact of current community development on the future of a neighborhood. She introduced 4-year-old Jason, who attended the reception and mentioned his enjoyment of lettuce and carrots. But she also spoke of the need for continued assistance from federal programs like the Community Development Block Grants for low income neighborhoods.

Similarly, Council member Stephen Costello, mentioned that jobs for young people play a crucial role in their lives. He stated that he met his wife of 40 years because they both worked in a local grocery store. His attention to the problem of food deserts began when he attended a Community Development meeting in the South Union neighborhood 5 years earlier, and a 75-year-old resident spoke to him of the challenge of shopping with public transportation, It can take a half day to reach a grocery store by bus and return.

For Council Member Boykins, the moment was particularly emotional. He grew up in the neighborhood and once lived in the apartments in the adjacent lot. He stated that he played football on the field where the new Pyburn store will be built. But for 50 years there was never a full service grocery store in the area. All of the speakers and elected officials joined in scooping a shovel full of dirt to mark the official start of the project.

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