When retail powerhouse Walmart Neighborhood Market moved into Oildale in 2014, it dramatically changed the retail grocery landscape.
Since the North Chester Avenue store opened, a nearby Vons has closed. So has locally owned Cope's Food Fair on Norris Road and 11-C Market on Roberts Lane. Dollar General chain stores have sprung up north of the river, and a Family Dollar now occupies the former Cope's location, but scores of residents say the community desperately needs another specialty grocery store or supermarket.
Paula Cox has lived in Oildale for 30 years, and as she finished loading groceries into her pickup in the Walmart Neighborhood Market parking lot Friday, she nodded her head when asked whether Oildale needs a second supermarket.
"Yes," she said. "We need another store. Vons, 11-C, Cope's, all of them went away after Walmart opened."
Without any nearby competition, Cox said, Walmart has a captive audience, and that creates a disadvantage for customers. But Cox acknowledged she has threatened to drive to northwest Bakersfield for her grocery shopping, but hasn't yet because the convenience of Walmart's closer location keeps her coming back.
News on social media that another fitness center is slated to open on Airport Drive in a vacant building — a building that once housed a supermarket — had many Oildale residents talking about the scarcity of supermarkets in the community.
So on Thursday, The Californian asked residents straight out on Facebook: "Does Oildale need a second grocery store?"
Less than 24 hours later, the number of comments were approaching 150, and virtually all of them answered with an unambiguous yes.
"Yes, we need a large supermarket," Anita Wheeler Thomas said on the Facebook post. "I like our little Walmart, but like to go to Albertsons, WinCo and Vons. They are not convenient to my home."
"Yes, I believe that within any community there should be a selection of markets from which to shop," added Melissa McDonald. "Not only for the consumer but for accountability for each market. Without direct competition in close proximity there's really no need to compete for business or keep a store in top shape to please customers as there's no real option to shop elsewhere easily."
They kept coming. Diane Barker said she drives from Oildale all the way to Vons on Coffee Road.
Gayle Heidrich Carpenter said she shops at WinCo, which also is in the northwest.
"We definitely need a new store in order to compete with Walmart's monopoly here," said Jennifer Doolittle Gamble. "Vons wasn't a good match and while Cope's and 11-C were great, they were also expensive."
And Mari Cameron said Oildale's demographics are changing fast.
"There is a need for a store that carries a variety of ethnic foods and deli selections such as Vallarta supermarket," she said in a comment.
Kier Moore, an apprentice electrician, said Oildale "absolutely" needs another grocery source. He's concerned that Oildale is becoming a "food desert."
He wasn't the only one to use that term.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines a "food desert" as an area that has limited access to affordable and nutritious food, a community or neighborhood in urban or suburban areas more than 1 mile from a supermarket. Sections of Oildale appear to fit that description.
But Kern County Supervisor Mike Maggard, whose district includes Oildale, said when he was in school he worked in the grocery business at Thriftimart on Niles Street, which was then the most successful grocery store in town.
"That store no longer exists," he said. "It was replaced by Safeway and Vons. And now, they are gone, or are on their way out.
"While I really miss Cope’s Meat Market, owned by my lifelong friend John Cope, I’ll go buy meat from him no matter where he is located, or I would pay to have it delivered to my home, but it is the natural evolution of the retail marketplace to see smaller stores replaced by bigger stores, and eventually big-box stores will be replaced by home delivery."
Yes, the purchasing power and regional placement of chains like Walmart and Costco currently give them and other national chains an advantage over local one-off stores.
And as far as food deserts go, Maggard said much of northeast Bakersfield is substantially more than a mile from any grocery stores.
"I guess you could make the argument that northeast Bakersfield is a food desert as well," he said.
"The good news is that good-quality produce, a diverse product line, competitive prices and safe, clean shopping opportunities continue to be available, even if we have to drive a bit farther to get to them," he said.
"The days of walking down the street every day to pick up bread and milk at the corner store are probably coming to an end."