New Carytown Fresh Market will not accept food stamps, not yet

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RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR)—The Fresh Market, opening on September 19, will be the only major grocery store in downtown Richmond that does not accept food stamps.

The store will not accept payment from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), or the special supplemental nutrition program for Women, Infants and Children, known as WIC.

Online, The Fresh Market posts that they were founded in 1982 on one simple idea; “to provide quality products to our friends and neighbors in a friendly and inclusive environment.”

Councilman Bruce Tyler, 1st  District, told CBS 6 that he hopes “for the sake of the community that they change their business policy, but quite frankly that’s up to them.” “But I hope that as they come into the community that they would be inclusive," he added.

All the city's major grocery stores, including the Ellwood Thompson’s Community Market, accept SNAP payments. Major stores in the extended metro-area also accept SNAP payments, at the minimum. 

And in August, the Virginia Department of Agriculture said they would make Electronic Benefit Transfer machines available to farmer’s markets across the state, to help improve access to fresh, healthy food as well as to benefit farmers.

The new 23,000- square-foot store, located in the former Verizon building at 10 N. Nansemond Street, might change their policy in the future, though no date was offered.

"The Fresh Market is in the process of upgrading our systems to accept EBT,” Drewry Sackett, PR and Community Relations Manager for the company, said in an email to CBS 6. “Our customers can be on the lookout for this change in the foreseeable future.”

The government recently announced that 46.7 million families, a record number of Americans, received food stamp benefits in June.

Data shows that 918,816 Virginia individuals collected food stamp benefits in June 2012, including military families and families where household members have employment.

In Virginia, the amount of food stamp recipients has climbed roughly 69 percent since 2008.

Nationally, a record $71.81 billion was spent on food stamp benefits in fiscal year 2011, more than double the amount spent in 2008.

“It’s important to make sure all members of our community have access to good, healthy food,” said Tyler.

Jordan Worrall, a public relations representative of The Fresh Market said, when asked why the grocer does not accept EBT, that "the necessary system upgrades are quite costly and honestly, until recently, we haven't received many requests from shoppers."

"As those requests have increased in recent months, the company made the decision to update the program," Worrall said in an email. 

Tammy Hawley, press secretary for  Mayor Dwight Jones, said in an email that the administration is interested in talks with retailer, especially given the demographics in the city.

"The Mayor is interested in the Administration having a conversation with Fresh Market on this and has asked the Department of Economic and Community Development to pursue a discussion to determine if an alternative approach might be an option, especially in light of the demographics in our city."
The store’s opening will be the eighth in Virginia. The retailer has 115 stores in 21 states.
*updated to include quote from Mayor Jones.