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After A Tornado And Looters, Old North Dayton's GroceryLane Tries For A Comeback

Miami Valley Disaster Relief, The Foodbank, and other local charities recently visited GroceryLane with owner Deep Patel.
Jason Reynolds
/
WYSO
Miami Valley Disaster Relief, The Foodbank, and other local charities recently visited GroceryLane with owner Deep Patel.

On Memorial Day, 2019, the GroceryLane on Troy Avenue in Old North Dayton was hit by one of the 15 tornadoes that touched down in the Miami Valley. After the storm, the store was looted and vandalized. The owners say they weren’t insured, and thieves didn’t just take food and water. They took the heavy equipment and stripped the copper wire from the walls. Jason Reynolds spoke to GroceryLane’s owners about their struggle to reopen.

Deep Patel is opening the loading dock of his ravaged grocery store. He’s invited Miami Valley Disaster Relief, The Foodbank, and other local charities to see if any of the untouched, sealed food that hasn’t expired could be donated.

“I don’t want to throw all the stuff out,” Patel says. “I want them to take it, so they can help other people if it’s still good, if it's still usable. That’s the whole goal. That and to reopen the store.”

While there’s light from the loading dock in the back of the store, the front of the building, where the aisles and checkouts are, is pitch black. All the windows were boarded up after the storm, and there’s no electricity, because thieves took the panels and wires. Everyone uses the flashlights on their phones to avoid the shattered glass and sticky spills on the floor.

There are empty shelves, moldy fruits, random piles of food.

Deep shows his guests a shelf of sealed baby food, one of the few products that wasn’t looted, while his father, Haas Patel, shows me the places where thieves sawed their way into the store and where wire was ripped from the walls, presumably to be sold as scrap.

Deep Patel stands in the wreckage of GroceryLane in Old North Dayton. After being hit by a tornado, the store was looted and vandalized repeatedly. Since then, more organized thieves have robbed the store of electric panels, wiring, coolers, and other equ
Credit Jason Reynolds / WYSO
/
WYSO
Deep Patel stands in the wreckage of GroceryLane in Old North Dayton. After being hit by a tornado, the store was looted and vandalized repeatedly. Since then, more organized thieves have robbed the store of electric panels, wiring, coolers, and other equipment.

Haas says he gave his son the money to run the grocery, and now, he’s heartbroken.

“It’s really tough. My entire life's money I was saving and I gave my son, and he’s losing—because of the tornado and people who broke in the store again and again—he’s losing almost $350,000,” Haas says. 

The Patels say the roof and walls of the store have been repaired and are structurally sound, but the building still needs windows and doors, electric panels and wiring, coolers and equipment.

After that, they’ll have to buy all the food that goes into stocking a grocery store.

Laura Mercer, Executive Director of the Miami Valley Long Term Recovery Operations Group, says they usually focus on individuals and households in recovery, but the situation with GroceryLane is unique.

“Because it impacts the neighborhood here in Old North Dayton, we wanted to come take a look at it today to see if there’s some things we could do to help,” Mercer says.

And she says the recovery group may be able to help with securing the building, finding temporary lighting, and providing other necessities as the Patels work towards reopening.

If the break-ins stop and everything goes just right, Deep thinks GroceryLane may be able to reopen in late spring or early summer, which would be welcomed by the community.

The Old North Dayton Neighborhood Association says GroceryLane was the only place residents could walk to, to buy affordable, healthy food. Without the store, neighborhood leaders say Old North Dayton has become a food desert.

Standing in the dark, destroyed grocery with Deep, it’s hard to imagine what the grocery once was or what it might be again one day, but Deep says he’s determined to help his family and his community.

“I have a lot of people that told me that they actually need a grocery store,” he says. “That’s why we’ve been working on it. If we can reopen, it would be better for them and better for us,” he says.