Walnut Hills / E. Walnut Hills

On The Ground: Post-Kroger, Walnut Hills believes 'We can get something better'

On March 8, Walnut Hills Kroger finished its final day of business and closed its doors for the last time, creating a “food desert” — defined as a community that has no grocery store within a one-mile radius.

In addition to punctuating Soapbox’s recently wrapped 12-story On The Ground series, Kroger’s closing represents a turning point for the Walnut Hills community, which the local raconteurs at Walnut Hills-based Cincy Stories have documented in this encapsulating video.

The video opens on an early morning at the home of Nicole Jones, a 25-year Walnut Hills resident and mother of three boys: “Not just boys,” Jones is quick to point out. “Black, male boys.”

The video details Jones's efforts to keep her children safe and aware in a neighborhood that’s changing at breakneck speed. She worries that gentrification will eventually price her family out of the neighborhood.

Jones is rightfully proud of the fact that two sons have now graduated from the prestigious Purcell Marion High School in Walnut Hills. Sixteen-year-old Josh is now attending Purcell, and, as Nicole points out, it’s of the utmost importance to keep Josh and other Walnut Hills teenagers occupied and on track for success.

“I keep him busy, whether it’s football, wrestling,” says Jones, explaining that she has eyes in the neighborhood as well — whether Josh is “on McMillan or Woodburn,” there’s always someone who knows him and is looking out for his best interests.

Jones goes on to discuss the closure of Kroger, saying that for her family, it symbolizes the community’s departure from a place with structure where people “worked together,” to one where residents now fear for the wellbeing of its disabled, elderly and young residents alike.

Kevin Wright, executive director of the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation, is working to assuage those fears. “Real estate, development and community are often the opposite,” he says. “Development is very capitalistic; community is about helping people grow where they live. Our role is between those two.”

Among other projects in Walnut Hills, the WHRF is currently working to renovate 50,000 square feet of historic space at Paramount Square. Once completed, the $20 million mixed-use project will bring dozens of jobs to the neighborhood, as well as new residential space, 25 percent of which will be reserved for low-income families.

Wright finds it somewhat strange that Kroger, after decades of disinvestment and stagnancy in Walnut Hills, is choosing to close the store now amidst historic redevelopment.

But it’s not something the Foundation is dwelling on; instead, they’ve secured a grant to hire a full-time healthy outreach coordinator — longtime Walnut Hills resident Gary Dangel — who has his own deep relationships within the community. Dangel works alongside WHRF community outreach coordinator Aprina Johnson to talk to members of the community and help them formulate a game plan for a post-Kroger Walnut Hills.

“We’re viewing (Kroger’s departure) as an opportunity,” says Dangel, explaining that the WHRF’s vision is to create a new identity for Walnut Hills that will prompt visitors from outside the neighborhood who will view the community as a destination for culture, cuisine and retail.

On The Ground in Walnut Hills is underwritten by Place Matters partners LISC and United Way and the neighborhood nonprofit the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation, who are collectively working together for community transformation. Additional support is provided by development partners Neyer Properties and CASTO. Data and analysis is provided by The Economics Center. Prestige AV and Creative Services is Soapbox’s official technology partner.

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