Chicken-Fried News: Food desert drama 

INGVARD ASHBY
  • Ingvard Ashby

Local grocery chain Buy For Less gave a textbook example in how not to handle public relations correctly last week, after it announced the closing of its Smart Saver store at 23rd Street and Martin Luther King Avenue, which was the only full-service grocery option in the city’s unhealthiest zip code, 73111.

Step 1 in the PR (non) roll-out, the company issued an unofficial statement on the store closure, only posting a message that it would close in less than a week.

Step 2: The company declined interview requests from outlets across the city.

Step 3: The owner posted unverified comments on Facebook that decried the work of a public official in order to make more money for the company.

Since Smart Saver closed, Buy For Less (which also includes Supermercado and Uptown Grocery Co.) has remained mum on the reasons, but co-owner Susan Binkowski’s Facebook comments raise more questions than they answer. In online posts, Binkowski said the building has less than five days of operational safety remaining and claimed the city had been notified.

The Oklahoman reached out to the city’s public information office, which said there were no safety concerns logged by city inspectors. In other posts, Binkowski seems personally offended that community leaders, including Ward 7 councilwoman Nikki Nice and church members, organized Embark shuttles to provide transportation to another grocery farther west on 23rd Street.

She said residents in 73111 can simply get groceries delivered to them through its third-party delivery system. Of course she would say that. It’s more money for Buy For Less and helps its partnership with delivery as it pours money into a project — announced last year — that wants to deliver groceries by self-driving car.

The grocery delivery service, Shipt, requires PayPal or a credit card account to access, which raises the barrier needed to use the service. It also charges a fee. If Buy 4 Less really wanted to help the food desert, it could at least waive the delivery fee. Binkowski wasn’t taking responsibility.

“God is in control,” she wrote on Facebook. “He alone has perfect timing.”

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