Seeds planted in Fruit Valley, but what will grow?

Development may be looking to expand shopping, food options in neighborhood

By Katie Gillespie, Columbian Education Reporter

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A new development in the Fruit Valley neighborhood promises improvement on the Minit Mart and Shell gas station that’s long stood there, but details on what’s coming remain scarce.

Construction is underway at the development at Fourth Plain Boulevard and Fruit Valley Road

Pre-application paperwork filed with the city of Vancouver said the development will add 8,170 square feet to the 3,400-square-foot building, which houses the convenience store, gas station and offices of the Fruit Valley Foundation. But multiple calls to the property owner — Don Rhoads, president of The Convenience Group — went unreturned, so it’s unclear what the additional storefronts could eventually house.

The Vancouver Business Journal reported in 2015 that the company, whose portfolio includes 12 Minit Marts in Vancouver, would spend $2 million to expand the market.

Rhoads told the newspaper at the time that local stores were modeled with local needs in mind, like offering an expanded produce section at La Center’s Minit Mart — the only market in that city.

The Fruit Valley neighborhood, a low-income community on Vancouver’s west side, is among those downtown neighborhoods with limited access to grocery stores. The Minit Mart, whose Facebook currently advertises specials on beer, energy drinks and fried convenience food, is the closest resource for food in the area.

The neighborhood doesn’t officially meet the standards for the United States Department of Agriculture’s definition of a food desert — areas where a third or more residents have to travel more than half a mile to access healthy food. But Melissa Martin, chronic disease prevention program coordinator for Clark County Public Health, said other data suggests the neighborhood “definitely has no or low access to healthy food.”

“Definitely that’s a great opportunity to bring more food into a neighborhood,” Martin said of the development. “We want to see convenience stores, restaurant establishments; so certainly this could be a really positive thing for the neighborhood.”

Eric LaBrant, Fruit Valley Neighborhood Association president, is optimistic that the expanded store will bring more options for Fruit Valley’s residents. Older or low-income families may struggle to get around town, he said.

“A simple grocery store trip can take hours by bus, so having those available nearby can make a huge difference,” LaBrant said.