Gem City Market Offers Residents “More than a Grocery Store”
Dayton resident James Revels lives in a food desert. To get to the nearest full-service grocery store, he must take two buses and spend up to 45 minutes in transit. As a result, he often relies on more convenient options for his daily meals.
“There are only three places to get food in my neighborhood – the gas station, the Dollar General store or a fast food restaurant,” said James, a composer and audio engineer who lives in Dayton View. “It’s impossible to have a nutritious lifestyle living solely on this type of food. But sometimes I have no choice, because it takes several hours to make a run to the nearest grocery store.”
James is not alone. Recent studies show that Dayton ranks second in the nation for food hardship in households with children, and Montgomery County as a whole has fewer grocery stores per 10,000 people than the state average. To help address this issue, the Greater Dayton Union Cooperative Initiative (GDUCI) launched plans in 2015 for Gem City Market, a full-service cooperative grocery store to be located along lower Salem Avenue near downtown Dayton. The Market will provide affordable, fresh and healthy food in an area currently considered a food desert.
The Dayton Foundation supported the project with a $5,000 discretionary grant in 2016, which helped the GDUCI with marketing efforts, including creating a website. The Foundation also awarded a $75,000 discretionary grant in 2017, and donors in the Foundation’s Partners in Giving program provided an additional $14,600 in grants.
“Creating the website helped make the project more real,” said Lela Klein, co-founder and executive director of GDUCI. “We are so thankful for The Dayton Foundation grants and support from the Partners in Giving, which was some of the earliest funding we received. The Foundation has gone to bat for us and been deeply engaged in helping us get our message out.”
Gem City Market’s offerings will be similar to other area grocery stores, with 30 percent of the food options being organic and specialty. Fifteen to twenty percent of its produce will come from local vendors, including farms and gardens in West Dayton supported by Homefull and Central State University’s Urban Agricultural Department. Plans also include a coffee cart, a bank, and an on-site nurse practitioner and dietician, to help fill gaps for other services that are not easily accessible for nearby residents.
“This is more than a grocery store. This is a positive, innovative solution for redevelopment in this area,” Lela said. “Gem City Market is just the type of project that can help spur investment in Northwest Dayton and give residents a sense of pride in their neighborhood.” Perhaps the most unique aspect of this project is its business model, known as a multi-stakeholder cooperative, in which the Market will be owned by its employees and customers. Individuals can buy a membership for $100, and those qualifying for SNAP and WIC can purchase memberships at a reduced price. Members have access to member-only pricing and voting privileges, among other benefits. In addition, workers who have taken required classes have the opportunity to buy in after their first year of employment.
“Gem City Market is an important step toward achieving a hunger-free Dayton. We need the support of the entire community to make it happen.”
– Former U.S. Congressman Tony Hall
“Worker ownership often means better customer service and lower waste because they have a share in the company’s success,” Lela said. “When employees and residents take ownership in the Market, they have a vote as to whether or not it stays in their community.”
grocery store staples, the Market also will
offer organic and specialty options.
At a time when many institutions and local vendors are vacating this area of town, Amaha Sellassie, board chair of the GDUCI, stresses the importance of showing residents that they aren’t being left behind.
“This project isn’t about charity. This is a way to reinvest in these communities and give people hope that future efforts in their neighborhood will come to fruition,” Amaha said. “Not only does it provide them with access to nutritional food, but it also gives residents a sense of power and helps them lead conversations about how to build investment in their neighborhoods.”
More than $1 million has been raised and 800 memberships have been secured for Gem City Market to date. New market tax credits could bring in another $1 million, but the project still needs the public’s support to meet its $4.2 million fundraising goal to break ground in 2019. GDUCI recently established a Charitable Checking Account℠ (CCA) through The Dayton Foundation to give individuals who wish to support the effort a place to donate to the capital campaign.
“Because we are a relatively new organization, our CCA assures donors that GDUCI is a safe, legitimate organization and not just some fly-by-night nonprofit,” Lela said. “It also takes the administrative burden off of us as a volunteer-run organization.”
In addition to the Foundation’s support, Gem City Market has many community enthusiasts. Former U.S. Congressman Tony Hall, founder of the Hall Hunger Initiative, is one of the project’s strongest advocates.
“Food is one of the essentials of life. We cannot have a vibrant city with close to a third of our families with children struggling to eat,” Tony Hall said. “Gem City Market is an important step toward achieving a hunger-free Dayton. We need the support of the entire community to make it happen.” ❧
To help support this effort, please consider a gift to the Gem City Market Capital Campaign Fund here.
Good News is made possible by five Dayton Foundation donors and families who have stepped forward to become the Foundation’s 2016-2017 “I Believe!” Partners. Click here to read their stories.
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