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Where shopping isn’t a pleasure: north end of West Palm Beach

Troy Jackson is job hunting. Jackson, 21, has a car, but his 63-year-old grandmother doesn’t, and he’s the one who has to take her to the Winn-Dixie at 45th Street and Australian Avenue.

But, he said Friday, in a few weeks, “I guess we’ll go further up the street.”

The neighborhood’s not what the federal government calls a “food desert” — but for some residents, it might as well be.

The store, just across the city line, is the only large supermarket for the West Palm Beach neighborhood on the other side of 45th Street. When it shuts down this month, the only substantive alternative in the area will be an IGA grocery store that’s been the subject of numerous code and health violations and has been declared a “chronic nuisance.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines a “food desert” as a census tract where “a substantial portion” of residents are low-income, don’t have vehicles and are more than one-half mile from a large grocery store.

They say people living in those areas often have to patronize smaller stores, which exploit them by jacking up prices and offering lower-quality, sometimes unhealthy food.

The 2010 Census says fewer than 2 percent of the 1,636 households in the tract near the Winn-Dixie don’t have vehicles. And most are near that store or the King’s Food and Meat Bazaar on 36th Street.

But soon one won’t be an option. And many residents — and inspectors — haven’t been keen on the other one.

King’s failed an Oct. 14 inspection by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Division of Food Safety. According to documents, the inspector found violations of standards for temperature, sanitization and labeling.

State records show the inspector returned last Thursday, and the store passed. Owner Genaro Espinal reached at the store blamed the problems on recent rains and a leak in the roof that’s been fixed.

The city also cited the property for code violations three times in the past year and a half.

In February 2013, the city wrote up the store for unsanitary conditions and disrepair; that was resolved. In April 2013, the issue was storefront glass that hadn’t been replaced to the city’s satisfaction; that’s been accruing $100 a day fines and is up to $31,400. And on Sept. 23, city code officer Laura Borso declared the property a “chronic nuisance.” A hearing before a special magistrate is set for this week.

Asked Thursday if people should feel confident shopping at his store, Espinal said, “Of course.”

Jacqueline Smith, president of the group Concerned Residents of Westfield, wrote The Palm Beach Post in late October to complain about King’s.

Smith said Mayor Jeri Muoio visited the store about two years ago. The mayor “stated the store passed her test with flying colors,” Smith wrote.

“That’s not my recollection,” Muoio said Oct. 28. “I thought it was disgusting.” But, Muoio said, it had passed a state health inspection.

The mayor said the city had been in talks to renovate the store with CRA money but never reached agreement.

Smith is no stranger to quality-of-life battles. Her group has for years been urging the city to close down the troubled 45th Street Flea Market.

With the Winn-Dixie in Mangonia Park going away, Muoio said, “I am not thrilled.” She said she hopes the planned makeover of the Currie Park corridor, and ideas for revitalizing the Broadway corridor, both just to the east, will help draw in more big-box supermarkets.

“We need to get more people in them and higher incomes, frankly,” Muoio said. “Supermarkets look at number of heads. People that live there. And they determine if it’s going to be a good fit for them.”

Back at the Winn-Dixie, shopper Gillian Cieri had just loaded her car with about $200 worth of items, much of them in the form of pet supplies. She lives five minutes away in Northwood Hills. Soon, she’ll be looking for a new place to shop.

“I have a car, but I know a lot of people who don’t,” Cieri said. “I’ve been to nicer Winn-Dixies, but it was here.”

Staff researchers Melanie Mena and Michelle Quigley contributed to this story.

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