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The [Lack of] Grocery Store in Little Italy

By Bohdana Sereda

Mural in Little Italy. Taken by Bohdana Sereda.

Walkable neighbourhoods have been a "hot topic" recently, partially because they offer several benefits to the people living there. One of the main reasons these areas are often called "15-minute neighbourhoods" is the ability to reach important everyday destinations on foot within 15 minutes or less. Such destinations usually include health clinics, parks, schools, various shops, and grocery stores. 

Little Italy, located in central Ottawa, is often seen as one of the examples of such neighbourhoods in Canada's capital. In the "15-minute Neighbourhoods Baseline Report", the City of Ottawa lists key attributes in walkable areas. Little Italy checks out several of them, such as having different housing options and public service facilities and providing convenient transit options. However, there is a lack of access to grocery stores, which is crucial to bringing healthy foods to the residents. Let's look at this issue in more detail.

The Preston Street BIA hosts a directory of retailers and facilities in Little Italy. After analyzing it, one can find four entries (Casa Nicastro, Luciano Foods, Marcello's Market, Preston Food Market) related to stores selling food ,out of which only one carries a tag of an "Italian grocery store" (Luciano Foods) on Google Maps. Despite the description and great selection of deli items, this store carries almost no fresh produce (as of May 1, 2024, there were only a few boxes with fruit). Given that Little Italy is one of the most densely populated wards, where do residents grocery shop?

Fresh fruits at Luciano Foods. Taken by Bohdana Sereda.

According to online public opinion (i.e. some comments on this Reddit post), many have to drive or take public transit to big stores like Loblaws, Metro, or RCSS. It is worth mentioning that there is a Kowloon Market in Chinatown, offering a variety of fresh produce and different pantry and household items. However, a person living on Adeline Street, for example, would need to walk 24 minutes one way to get there. Such a trip can be pretty uncomfortable, especially with multiple bags or during a snowstorm or an extreme heat warning. It would be a very long walk to quickly grab a single item, such as a lemon, if one suddenly runs out of them. 

Little Italy has been waiting for a local grocery store since 2006, when Loeb closed its location in the area. By the end of 2021, residents’ hopes were high again – Mercato Zacconi opened its doors offering fresh produce, international deli, baked products, and alcohol. However, it did not last very long when, in December 2023, the owner had to close the doors due to the province's alcohol policy. Four years ago, the conversation started about a neighbourhood grocery store as a part of a new development by Arnon. Unfortunately, there has been no movement since, and according to the latest information, the size of the development has been reduced. It is unclear if a grocery store will still be included.

Building where Mercato Zacconi used to be. Taken by Bohdana Sereda.

To conclude, the issue of (no) grocery stores in Little Italy has persisted for over a decade with momentary spikes of hope. If Little Italy is genuinely to be a walkable 15-minute neighbourhood, some changes need to happen starting with a proper grocery store. Kowloon Market in Chinatown, MargoFresh, which recently opened on Gladstone Avenue, and the Hintonburg Market in Hintonburg are just a few examples of successful neighbourhood grocery stores supplying residents with fresh produce. We can all agree that people living in Little Italy deserve a similar grocery store that is accessible within a short trip of their dwelling. 


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