Town Closer to Market in the Southeast Food Desert | Sweetened

TOLEDO — For the past six years, Lee Miller hasn’t worried about buying fresh food or having to pay $1 for a single banana at a gas station convenience store, even though her neighborhood was once known as a food desert.

The place where you now get your groceries, Market on the Green in Toledo, is the proposed model for the Pontiac Street Market on the southeast side of Fort Wayne. The Ohio Market was built where grocery stores no longer existed; Healthy meats and fresh produce were not available within a few miles.

Prices at Market on Green are in line with – or cheaper than – other grocery stores further afield in the Toledo area.

“Sure, it was required,” Miller said. “Especially in these neighborhoods, these stores are far apart.”

The USDA defines food deserts as areas where the car-less population is more than half a mile from the nearest supermarket or at least 33% of the population lives more than 20 miles from a supermarket. Public-private partnerships like Market on the Green and Pontiac Street Market bring fresh, healthy foods to these neighborhoods.

Miller loves the pricing, convenience, and marketability of Green’s commitment to carrying products by local businesses.

The 6,500-square-foot store is larger and holds more groceries than a convenience store, but smaller than many modern supermarkets. Market on the Green is similar to the corner shops of the early 20th century.

The market includes a variety of products with more than five types of apples and three types of onions. The store’s departments stock locally baked goods, locally butchered meats, locally made beauty products, and nationally branded products. Market on the Green also has ethnic foods, Amish food, local restaurant hot dogs, and pickle and chili sauce.

“It’s nice to have a grocery store in your neighborhood,” Miller said.

Members of the Fort Wayne City Council are expected to vote Tuesday on whether to create a partnership between the city, Parkview Regional Medical Center and affiliates to create a similar market at 918 E. Pontiac St. , the former site of the non-profit Vincent Village. The council had intended to vote on the motion on December 20, but Councilor Glenn Haynes, General Assembly member, asked that the matter be discussed so he could visit Market on the Green.

Hines has traveled there twice, including Jan. 13 with Councilman Tom Didier, R-3rd. Haynes said the local proposal had broad support in the council.

“I’m sure the majority of us would vote for it,” Haynes said.

Didier said he was ready to vote for the partnership in December and was impressed when he visited the Toledo market. He knows the shops, gleaned from his family’s days owning Didier Mets and the 32 years he spent working for US Foods.

“It was an amazing number of items for the scale,” Didier said of the market. The prices were all competitive. The choice was good. “

The idea for the Pontiac Street Market grew out of the comprehensive Fort Wayne Community Development study to update the Southeast’s strategy, said Nancy Townsend, Fort Wayne’s director of community development. Council approved the original plan for the Southeast in January 2021.

Southeast residents told city officials that the biggest concern is food insecurity and the lack of a grocery store. Townsend said her department’s mission is to “take risks where there are risks.”

financial commitment

Grocery stores operate with a small profit margin — about 4%, Townsend said.

City officials searched across the country for a model that could work in Fort Wayne. Then Bright Point, a nonprofit poverty alleviation organization, connected city officials to Market on the Green.

The Toledo Store and the proposed Pontiac Street Market share more characteristics than some of their siblings. They both partner with top medical providers in their area – Promedica in Toledo and Parkview in Fort Wayne.

For Market on the Green, the nearest supermarket was more than 8 miles away, said Adrienne Bradley, director of community impact and social investments at Promedica. For most residents of the Southeast, the closest store in Fort Wayne is Kroger’s two miles away, said Elizabeth Webb, the city’s public information officer.

Didier said it wasn’t just grocery stores but businesses in general that began to disappear from Southeast Fort Wayne after International Harvester closed operations in 1983. His family had meat markets in that area, but Didier’s had the original and last Met’s – located in East Petite Street since 1964 – closed in 2000. Other grocery stores in Southeast Fort Wayne have also closed.

Like Market on the Green, Pontiac Street Market will use an existing empty building. Townsend said the builders would add an addition to the existing building, making the proposed store over 6,500 square feet.

Former Toledo brownfield development officer Joel Mazur said the primary focus of his city was to clean up the area and provide more green space by removing two more blocks from the building. Although getting a grocery store in the area was one of the goals after the renovations, “it wasn’t until the core project was a success,” he says.

Market on the Green has done well from the start, said Bradley. However, this is the first year that Promedica expects the store to break even.

“The grocery store is not profitable,” Bradley said. “There’s a reason there isn’t anything in the food desert.”

Store supervisor Stephanie Hamilton said the store’s biggest challenge was with supply chains. Some sections, including the meat, were sparsely filled at times.

And Bradley added, “COVID has been tough, too.” Despite accessing the online ordering program during the pandemic, most people preferred to come to the store, she said.

Hamilton said she sees the same clients come in, sometimes twice a day.

Wilhelm Voigt comes to the store about once a week, on the way home, since the opening of Market on the Green. He said, “I live nearby, so it’s convenient for me.”

Voet loves the local beer and wine selections the store has carried over the past three years and misses the organics the store used to have. He said he’d like to see more selections, but they’re healthier than convenience stores.

Sonny Drayton said he’s been shopping at Market on the Green for about a year, and thinks it’s definitely in demand.

“Kroger and Wal-Mart are so far away,” he said. “All they have is liquor stores everywhere,” he added, pointing to those around the area and another he didn’t trust loitering behind the building.

Arianne Patterson has been shopping at Market on the Green for about a month now, tempted by the fresh foods that inspire her to cook for her family.

The store changes what it carries based on community input. Organic foods were dropped because they cost too much for low-income locals. Local beer and wine were added to the selection two years later. The market also carries plenty of local produce and offers classes in cooking, finance, and other life skills on the second floor.

If the Fort Wayne City Council agrees to partner with Parkview, it would include a five-year commitment from both of them to keep the Pontiac Street Market going.

Townsend said the city will be responsible for the operating shortfalls in years one, two and three. Any deficit in years four and five will be split between Parkview and the city.

other opportunities

Townsend said gathering community input on goods and services for the Pontiac Street Market will be one of his highest priorities. City officials hope to eventually offer classes and a community gathering center on the second floor as well, but planning for that has yet to begin.

Haynes said he wanted lessons in Fort Wayne that were similar to the ones he learned about in Toledo, especially cooking lessons.

“I think that’s just as important as having a grocery store in a food desert,” he said.

Townsend said the city has found a temporary backer to cover any shortfall. It has previously said that the store needs, conservatively, to attract 2.5% of shoppers in the area to cover operations. She indicated that the Pontiac Street Market will be in a more residential area than Market on the Green, next to a business district.

Since Pontiac Street Market is also located in a more residential area than Market Green, there will be more families to serve, she said. The Fort Wayne market will have 25,000 households in its service area and 10,000 in a five to six block radius.

Townsend said construction could start in February because bids are ready. The store could open in the fall, and a maximum guaranteed cost has been set at $3.4 million.

If approved, Fort Wayne and Parkview would split the costs, with the city using $2 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding and $700,000 in local income tax money. The Fort Wayne Redevelopment Commission pledged another $700,000. Parkview will have to repay local income tax and redevelopment commission money over five years.

Parkview officials said in a statement that it has previously invested in improving food access and nutrition education through the Parkview Community Greenhouse and Learning Kitchen.

“The city’s support in this new endeavor would be a natural extension of those efforts,” the statement read.

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