Detroit community crowd-funds the only Black-owned grocery store in the city
“In the 1960s we had up to 20 black-owned grocery stores,” Wright said. “There were two left by 2010 and the last one closed in 2014.”
Charles Walker, a former Detroit grocer and manager of the Double Up Food Bucks healthy food incentive program, said the lack of black-owned shops was partly due to the lack of opportunities offered to black workers.
“It’s important who gets experience,” said Walker. “Detroiters may become a cashier or a stockbroker, but they don’t always learn how to work with salespeople or pay the bills. If you don’t get leadership opportunities, you have a kind of plateau.”
Former black-owned businesses have often been pushed out of the market by large grocery chains and fast food franchises, Wright said. In addition, an association of Chaldean groceries created the Detroit Independent Grocers Association, which enabled them to buy more products and sell them at a cheaper price.
“So many healthy food anchors in town have suffered,” Wright said. “People use the term ‘food wasteland’ a lot, but it’s not necessarily that there is no food available. It is that there is no good food.”
It was clear to Wright that there was a problem to be resolved, and his plans for Neighborhood Grocery, a 6,000-square-foot grocery store in the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood, were born Neighborhood Grocery to weather the troubled Detroit market would be one Community buy-in is essential. He developed a business model that would allow Detroiters to invest in growing the food and receive a portion of the profit from the food once the business was balanced, creating a collaborative commitment to the success of the business. The business also has a GoFundMe that has raised over $ 60,000 through an average donation of $ 75.
“I can work with local Detroiters and we can actually build our own table,” Wright said. “We can look at other needs in the community that need to be met and develop solutions ourselves.”
The model enables Wright to eliminate banks and large investment firms, which are often reluctant to accept the low profit margins of grocery stores. Through weekly emails and monthly investor meetings, his community gets a “front row seat” in the process of starting a business from the ground up.
“The crowdfunding perspective originally came out of necessity because grocery stores are not the sexiest investment for banks or major investors. However, we have found that this perspective gives Detroiters access to redevelopment processes when they were previously left out,” Wright said. “People can learn what it looks like to build code, what it looks like, make a business plan, do market research, and all the other components of financial literacy.”
Wright described the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood as “diverse and active” although there is no immediate grocery store in the area, making it an ideal community for the project. Wright doesn’t want Neighborhood Grocery to be a stand-alone project, however.
“This business model is built around replication, and I believe it is the future. Banks have the biggest impact on getting money for projects, and they’re usually all about dollars and cents,” Wright said. “But there is a new area of opportunity that will arise when people just pool a few dollars and start putting in the work.”
A study by the Fair Food Network found that Detroiters are spending over $ 200 million on groceries in the suburbs with no options available in the city. Wright said more local options will help get money back to the communities that need it.
“That’s tax revenue going out of town. The government is losing hundreds of millions of dollars that could be used on virtually any policy or program, and then Detroiters suffer because those policies and programs don’t exist in the city.”
Winona Bynum, the executive director of the Detroit Food Policy Council, agreed, saying that if Detroiters can meet their needs in the city, it will fuel not only the community but also economic growth.
“What it means is additional jobs for Detroiters,” Bynum said. “It means extra dollars going back into the community, and hopefully more invested in the city. The way it brings the store up, I think the community will really feel connected to it.”
A study by the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation found that grocery stores anchored strong local economies in many ways, as grocery stores often open up new areas of business. After Walker opened his grocery store in 2004, a Wendy’s and Family dollar soon popped up nearby.
But Walker said that while the economic benefits of opening more stores are clear, the community benefits should not be overlooked. Grocery stores aren’t just a source of jobs. They are also a source of stability and community. Think of recipes to be shared along the aisles or meet friends and invite them over for dinner.
“You see people you went to high school with, members of the Church, community organizations, maybe even government officials,” Walker said.
It is this community spirit that Wright says is driving it forward with this project. Preparing for years of hard work, Wright said he knew that opening the food would not be immediately lucrative, but for him profit was not the incentive.
“This project is all about rebuilding. It starts with eating but doesn’t end with eating. Once the communities can support themselves, everything is from there,” Wright said. “You know money is cool and everything, but change is much better.”