City Council defends $18,000 grocery feasibility study

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Within one day of community meetings, City Councilman Edmund Ford pushed through a resolution allowing $18,500 for a grocery feasibility study as officials hope to replace two Kroger locations that closed in South Memphis and Orange Mound.

The consultant hired to do the study is also a local political candidate.

Council Chairman Berlin Boyd said the study would be necessary to gather information to which the city didn't already have access.

“To find out how many families are on social programs, to find out health epidemics in these communities, there isn’t a place you can go in the city that will drill down exactly to the point you need,” Boyd said. "Knowing raw data helps. We don’t have staff that can conduct that survey for us."

They worried people in those neighborhoods don't have access to fresh food or prescriptions.

“It is hurting some of those individuals who have to walk from their house to South Third or walk to Lamar and Airways and now they have to walk further or find another mode of transportation,” Ford said.

Consultant Rhonnie Brewer said the city hopes to find a new store solution by April 1, or possibly April 15.

The city hired Brewer's company Socially Twisted to work with UpLift Solutions on the feasibility study.

Brewer is also running for Shelby County School Board this year.

Boyd said UpLift Solutions specialized in food desert studies to lure stores across the country.

But he did not have much knowledge of the prior work of Socially Twisted. He said Ford chose the group to do the work.

“We’re sending a message that this person, based on my colleague vetting them, is qualified to perform the services,” Boyd said.

WREG asked Boyd if he saw hiring her company as a conflict of interest or an endorsement of her candidacy.

“There isn’t an overall conflict of interest because the city doesn’t fund any activities with Shelby County Schools so we’re not in the school business. But, as far as her using it as a political platform I don’t know,” Boyd said.

For her part, Brewer tells us she’s a passionate leader who started her own marketing firm after getting experience at other companies.

"I have managed the western divisions of a Fortune 500 company, managed projects for medical specialists, chamber of commerce, banks, airports and numerous others. Aside from this, I have through research identified a highly qualified organization, Uplift Solutions, who will be partnering with Socially Twisted to provide the much-needed information we look forward to presenting in the next couple of weeks. My role in this will be that of project manager," she wrote in an email.

The Socially Twisted website advertises that “we are not just any other marketing firm. We believe events are a way to join social causes to the community.”

Brewer said she wanted to help public school families just like she wanted to help people have access to food and medicine at a local grocery store.