Local grocers gain ground in Flint

Local grocers gain ground in Flint

When the last big-box grocery store left Flint, about 100,000 residents were left with one less major shopping option for affordable, fresh food.

The void punctuated by Kroger’s closing on Davison Road in 2015 left residents, community leaders and local government to seek solutions, but the effort has grown into something bigger. Several independent retail grocery initiatives have formed and show potential for serving the city’s residents and customers. Participants in the efforts to improve quality food access have announced several advances in projects, including doors that will open in 2018.

Flint Fresh Food Hub is scheduled to open the doors to its first permanent location this month. The market is one of several grocery projects announced, to help improve local food access.

Flint Fresh Food Hub has worked with local farmers to provide wholesale produce to institutions like hospitals and schools, as well as local residents, through a veggie box program and mobile market. But Flint Fresh Food Hub is in the final stages of opening a permanent location at 3325 East Court St. After two years of serving the community, the organization’s biggest challenge was finding a new site, says Pam Bailey, president.

“We wanted to obviously stay in the city of Flint, primarily helping Flint residents,” she says. “Flint is the hub of the county so we definitely needed to be there.”

Flint Fresh Food Hub won a $3.4 million grant from the Michigan Department of Education to renovate the property, scheduled to open to shoppers in June.

The new Hamady Complete Food Center is scheduled to open its doors at Clio and Pierson Roads this summer, taking residence at the site of another former Kroger. The space will occupy 74,000 square feet. Initially, some community and business advocates had hoped to attract another major retail chain outlet, but organizations like the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce reconsidered their approach.

“I think the interesting outcome was that, instead, we looked to ourselves and the strengths we already had in our community and tried to reinforce what was already here,” says Kristina Johnston, group vice president of the Chamber. “I think that’s an overall trend that I see. We really want to cultivate leadership.”

The agency outlined a plan to support development of two new stores and sustain existing stores by offering technical and financial resources.

Flint Pastor Patrick Sanders plans to announce details of a church-supported grocery store initiative later this month. Photo by Paul Engstrom

Some of the local leadership who’ve been working to meet the community’s demand for affordable food access include Pastor Patrick Sanders of New Jerusalem Full Gospel Baptist Church, and Pastor Reginald Flynn of Foss Avenue Baptist Church. Supported by the church, Sanders’ Fresh Start CDC has offered a “pop-up” market whose proceeds are reinvested into the market’s next opening. Now Fresh Start is close to acquiring a 30,000-square-foot location, and Sanders says he’ll announce details by the end of June.

“It’s in a good space right now, but unfortunately we can’t talk about it until the ink dries,” says Sanders. “We’re right in the middle of finalizing a couple of last-minute pieces.”

The market’s location is close to the downtown corridor to make it accessible, Sanders says.

Meanwhile, Flynn’s church-supported initiative, North Flint Food Market, will not only be accessible to the community, but owned by it, in the form of a cooperative grocery store.

“For two years we’ve been planning,” Flynn says. “I don’t want to go into details about where we are, in terms of site control and details around the land and development of it, but we’ve received significant pre-development dollars from the philanthropic community and we’ve got great momentum.”

North Flint Reinvestment Corp. Founder and Foss Avenue Baptist Church Pastor Reginald Flynn says that construction on the North End Flint Food Market may begin as early as the fourth quarter this year. Photo by Paul Engstrom

Flynn says construction may begin around the fourth quarter of 2018 or the first part of 2019. Ruth Mott Foundation awarded North Flint Reinvestment Corp., the organization planning North Flint Food Market, $230,000 for a grocery store initiative in the Pierson Road corridor, according the Foundation’s website. The City of Flint contributed $200,000 toward the property’s acquisition.

Flynn says the store’s membership has increased to nearly 500 people, with equity of almost $100,000, which he hopes will add to its sustainability.

“In our case, we have a lack of healthy food options in the community and we have a lack of businesses owned by community members,” says Edgar Clarke, North Flint Reinvestment Corp.’s community outreach and marketing coordinator. “The cooperative tackles both of those because, as a cooperative grocery store, every member is an equal owner that has a vote and a share of the business … and the users of the business are the beneficiaries of the business.”

Although newer grocery store initiatives are underway, some businesses in the community that have been established for decades are contributing positively to Flint’s retail food culture. Hutchinson Food & Drug, located at 6509 N. Saginaw St., The Local Grocer, at 601 Martin Luther King Ave., and Landmark Food Center’s two locations, 206 W. Pierson Road and 4644 Fenton Road, collectively received $590,000 from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. to make internal and external improvements to improve customer access.

Johnston says the combined efforts of the existing establishments and new grocers planning to opening symbolize the city’s self-determination.

“I think it speaks a lot about the resiliency of Flint,” she says, “and the fact that we are trying to work on solving problems internally for the people who have been here a long time.”

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