Part of the argument for subsidizing a Royal Blue Grocery in Oak Cliff is that workers’ hourly pay will start at $13, but employees could make as much as $4 an hour each in shared tips to reach the Dallas living wage of $15 an hour.
With about eight people working per shift, that’s customers tipping at a rate of $32 an hour.
When was the last time you tipped the cashier at Tom Thumb or Whole Foods? I tip at coffee shops and sandwich counters, but never at the grocery.
Even if we think economic development funds would be best spent attracting a boutique grocery to the most economically vibrant part of southern Dallas, besides the fact that it would have zero impact on food deserts in Oak Cliff, this sounds more like a restaurant than a grocery.
Royal Blue, which started in Austin in 2006, has three existing stores in Dallas, including one on Main Street in Downtown.
This one, planned for the former Bolsa Mercado space on West Davis, is seeking $700,000 in economic development help from the city — a $350,000 grant from 2017 bond funds, and a $350,000 loan. The grant would come in the form of reimbursement for expenses, dependent on the store opening and signing a five-year lease. The loan would have a 3% interest rate over a 60-month term; it would require a 10-year lease and for construction to begin by March 31. The city’s Economic Development Committee approved the proposal this week, and it would require majority approval from the full City Council to pass; the vote is set for Dec. 11.
This is the first time that the company, which has 10 stores total, has sought public assistance, and they say the project is a no-go if they don’t get it.
The Oak Cliff store would be different from any of Royal Blue’s other stores in that it would have a 1,300-square-foot kitchen that would service the 4,000-square-foot store and make prepared foods for all of the Dallas stores. The company would use the subsidies to re-equip the kitchen, install outdoor café seating and purchase and install refrigerators for grocery aisles.
The City of Dallas has been unsuccessful in drawing grocery stores to southern Dallas, but northern Oak Cliff has it best, even if our main choices are Fiesta, Aldi and the one Tom Thumb store.
“To say that they need another grocery store ahead of West Dallas, South Dallas. It gives me some pause,” City Councilman Omar Narvaez said in an Economic Development Committee hearing this week. “What are we saying, as a city, our values are?”
That being said, these particular economic development funds are not specifically for grocery stores or wetting the food desert. They’re more general, geared toward economic growth by investing in commercial or retail businesses.
Arguments in favor of the subsidies do sound as if the city’s investment would strengthen Royal Blue’s place in the Dallas economy overall, with the added support for other stores and a larger number of employees in Oak Cliff than is typical for its other stores. [Watch the full economic development hearing.]
There is no doubt that Oak Cliff would like Royal Blue. But if they’re unable to find the private funding or loans that such a store would require, we question whether the time is right.
What could your Oak Cliff small business do with a $350,000 grant and a $350,000 loan?