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When orange juice gets too expensive at the 27th Street Albertson’s store, Dave Henry hops in his car and shops at the competition.

“I’ve been disturbed at the prices in Albertson’s,” Henry said Tuesday. “I’m on a fixed income, but I’m lucky to have a car.”

But many downtown residents don’t have vehicles, so they’re forced to pay higher prices at the downtown Albertson’s store, Henry said.

Henry and about 30 other members of Montana People’s Action picketed the downtown Albertson’s Tuesday while releasing a pricing study that claims the store at 611 N. 27th St. charges consistently higher prices than three other Albertson’s stores in Billings.

Albertson’s has a corporate policy of not allowing local store managers to comment on pricing policy, and they referred inquiries to company headquarters in Boise, Idaho.

Jeanette Duwe, an Albertson’s spokeswoman there, said she couldn’t comment on the study because she hadn’t seen it yet.

“We are uncertain about the validity of their survey methodology, so we’ll be looking at it,” Duwe said. She said officials planned to meet with members of Montana People’s Action to discuss the study and the company’s pricing policy.

Duwe said Albertson’s strives to price its products competitively while also providing good customer service and clean stores.

Stores carry merchandise that is designed to meet the needs of the neighborhood. “We are competitive in the market,” she said.

MPA’s pricing study, conducted from January through March, suggests people visiting the downtown Albertson’s pay $1.91 for a can of store-brand orange juice, while the same can of juice was $1.35 at the Heights Albertson’s store.

A can of Albertson’s apple juice was $1.82 downtown and just $1.30 at the Heights store, the study says.

“People in this neighborhood are getting taken advantage of,” said Kendall Wolcott, state vice chairman of Montana People’s Action, a coalition representing people with low and moderate incomes.

During the study, the MPA compared prices at four of the six Billings Albertson’s stores: downtown Billings; the “underpass” store at 511 Central Ave.; the Heights store at 670 Main; and the store at 1212 Grand Ave. They recorded prices of 85 common grocery items on 12 days during January, February and March.

The MPA’s study concludes shoppers at the downtown Albertson’s would pay $407 more per year for the same groceries compared to shoppers at the Heights and Grand Avenue stores.

The MPA study also compared the annual median income of different Billings neighborhoods. People living near the downtown Albertson’s had the lowest median income. Thirty percent of the people living near the downtown Albertson’s live in poverty, according to the MPA study.Tom Howard can be reached at 657-1261 or at