IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

Are poor neighborhoods “retail deserts”?


  • Schuetz, Jenny
  • Kolko, Jed
  • Meltzer, Rachel


Poor urban neighborhoods are often referred to as “food deserts”, lacking in grocery stores and healthy food vendors. However, most empirical studies of food deserts have been small scale, focusing on limited geographies and a narrow range of products. Standard retail location models, which often assume that consumers have identical preferences and are uniformly distributed through space, provide little insight into the relationship between local income and retail patterns. In this paper, we examine the relationship between neighborhood income and retail density for several types of goods and services in 58 large U.S metropolitan areas. We combine detailed data from the National Establishment Time-Series database on retail establishments and employment, by industry category and firm type, with Census data on ZCTA income, poverty and demographics. Results indicate that retail patterns do vary by neighborhood income, along many dimensions. High poverty neighborhoods have lower employment density for retail overall, supermarkets, drugstores, food service and laundry facilities, driven largely by reduced employment in chain establishments. Average establishment size increases with median income for all retail types. Neither income levels nor poverty rates consistently predict retail employment growth, but neighborhoods that experience income upgrading do see larger gains in retail employment.

Suggested Citation

  • Schuetz, Jenny & Kolko, Jed & Meltzer, Rachel, 2012. "Are poor neighborhoods “retail deserts”?," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 42(1-2), pages 269-285.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:regeco:v:42:y:2012:i:1:p:269-285 DOI: 10.1016/j.regsciurbeco.2011.09.005

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: Full text for ScienceDirect subscribers only

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Peter Davis, 2006. "Spatial competition in retail markets: movie theaters," RAND Journal of Economics, RAND Corporation, vol. 37(4), pages 964-982, December.
    2. Edward L. Glaeser, Jed Kolko, and Albert Saiz, 2001. "Consumer city," Journal of Economic Geography, Oxford University Press, vol. 1(1), pages 27-50, January.
    3. Karamychev, Vladimir & van Reeven, Peran, 2009. "Retail sprawl and multi-store firms: An analysis of location choice by retail chains," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 39(3), pages 277-286, May.
    4. Frankel, David M. & Gould, Eric D., 2001. "The Retail Price of Inequality," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 49(2), pages 219-239, March.
    5. Rachel Meltzer & Jenny Schuetz, 2012. "Bodegas or Bagel Shops? Neighborhood Differences in Retail and Household Services," Economic Development Quarterly, , vol. 26(1), pages 73-94, February.
    6. Haltiwanger, John & Jarmin, Ron & Krizan, C.J., 2010. "Mom-and-Pop meet Big-Box: Complements or substitutes?," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 67(1), pages 116-134, January.
    7. Jerry Hausman & Ephraim Leibtag, 2007. "Consumer benefits from increased competition in shopping outlets: Measuring the effect of Wal-Mart," Journal of Applied Econometrics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 22(7), pages 1157-1177.
    8. Jan K. Brueckner & Stuart S. Rosenthal, 2009. "Gentrification and Neighborhood Housing Cycles: Will America's Future Downtowns Be Rich?," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 91(4), pages 725-743, November.
    9. Steven C. Salop, 1979. "Monopolistic Competition with Outside Goods," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 10(1), pages 141-156, Spring.
    10. Chamorro-Rivas, Jose-Maria, 2000. "Plant proliferation in a spatial model of Cournot competition," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 30(5), pages 507-518, September.
    11. McKinnish, Terra & Walsh, Randall & Kirk White, T., 2010. "Who gentrifies low-income neighborhoods?," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 67(2), pages 180-193, March.
    12. de Palma, Andre & Lindsey, Robin & von Hohenbalken, Balder & West, Douglas S., 1994. "Spatial price and variety competition in an urban retail market : A nested logit analysis," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 12(3), pages 331-357, September.
    13. Ryan, David L. & Von Hohenbalken, Balder & West, Douglas S., 1990. "An econometric-spatial analysis of the growth and decline of shopping centers," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 20(3), pages 313-326, November.
    14. Waldfogel, Joel, 2008. "The median voter and the median consumer: Local private goods and population composition," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 63(2), pages 567-582, March.
    15. Steven Berry & Joel Waldfogel, 2003. "Product Quality and Market Size," NBER Working Papers 9675, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    16. Emin M. Dinlersoz, 2004. "Firm Organization and the Structure of Retail Markets," Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 13(2), pages 207-240, June.
    17. Pal, Debashis, 1998. "Does Cournot competition yield spatial agglomeration?," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 60(1), pages 49-53, July.
    18. West, Douglas S & Von Hohenbalken, Balder & Kroner, Kenneth, 1985. "Tests of Intraurban Central Place Theories," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 95(377), pages 101-117, March.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Blog mentions

    As found by, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Food Deserts as Market Failure
      by Jonas Feit in Conscience Warrior on 2013-11-18 23:50:00


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Murphy, Daniel, 2016. "Welfare consequences of asymmetric growth," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 126(PA), pages 1-17.
    2. Mark van Duijn & Jan Rouwendal & Ruben van Loon, 2014. "Urban Resilience: Store Location Dynamics and Cultural Heritage," ERSA conference papers ersa14p1158, European Regional Science Association.
    3. Murphy, Daniel P, 2011. "Does a Rising Tide Lift All Boats? Welfare Consequences of Asymmetric Growth," MPRA Paper 29407, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    4. Schuetz, Jenny, 2015. "Why are Walmart and Target Next-Door neighbors?," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 54(C), pages 38-48.
    5. Dennis, Charles & Alamanos, Eleftherios & Papagiannidis, Savvas & Bourlakis, Michael, 2016. "Does social exclusion influence multiple channel use? The interconnections with community, happiness, and well-being," Journal of Business Research, Elsevier, vol. 69(3), pages 1061-1070.
    6. Scott Hegerty, 2016. "Commercial bank locations and “banking deserts”: a statistical analysis of Milwaukee and Buffalo," The Annals of Regional Science, Springer;Western Regional Science Association, vol. 56(1), pages 253-271, January.
    7. Tingyu Zhou & John M. Clapp, 2016. "Predicting Risks of Anchor Store Openings and Closings," The Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics, Springer, vol. 52(4), pages 449-479, May.
    8. Scott W. Hegerty, 2016. "Commercial bank locations and “banking deserts”: a statistical analysis of Milwaukee and Buffalo," The Annals of Regional Science, Springer;Western Regional Science Association, vol. 56(1), pages 253-271, January.
    9. Jenny Schuetz, 2015. "Do rail transit stations encourage neighbourhood retail activity?," Urban Studies, Urban Studies Journal Limited, vol. 52(14), pages 2699-2723, November.
    10. Jenny Schuetz & Richard K. Green, 2014. "Is The Art Market More Bourgeois Than Bohemian?," Journal of Regional Science, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 54(2), pages 273-303, March.
    11. Cam Hebda & Jeffrey Wagner, 2016. "Nudging healthy food consumption and sustainability in food deserts," Letters in Spatial and Resource Sciences, Springer, vol. 9(1), pages 57-71, March.
    12. repec:eee:regeco:v:66:y:2017:i:c:p:52-73 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item


    Retail location; Food deserts; Commercial land use; Chain stores; Neighborhood amenities;

    JEL classification:

    • R12 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - General Regional Economics - - - Size and Spatial Distributions of Regional Economic Activity; Interregional Trade (economic geography)
    • R33 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Real Estate Markets, Spatial Production Analysis, and Firm Location - - - Nonagricultural and Nonresidential Real Estate Markets
    • L22 - Industrial Organization - - Firm Objectives, Organization, and Behavior - - - Firm Organization and Market Structure
    • L81 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Services - - - Retail and Wholesale Trade; e-Commerce


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:eee:regeco:v:42:y:2012:i:1:p:269-285. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Dana Niculescu). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.