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Food Boosts Kalamazoo's North Side Development

Grocery store anchors new activity, community garden

July 23, 2010 | By Patty Cantrell
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Northside Association for Community Development
  A non-profit group is making sure that residents of Kalamazoo’s north side neighborhood have a grocery store offering fresh, often locally grown produce.

KALAMAZOO—A few weeks ago, Mattie Jordan-Woods stood with pride outside the grocery store at Park and Westnedge Streets, on Kalamazoo's north side.

Ms. Woods smiled because the grocery store was about to re-open again, fulfilling a development plan that her organization, the Northside Association for Community Development, has for meeting the health, wellness, and job needs of its residents.

The store had been empty for a year because its last operator, Spartan Stores, did not adjust its more suburban, corporate business model to the needs of the largely African-American community and the downtown location it served, she said.

That bothered Ms. Woods: After all, the Association built the store in 2003 to meet resident demand for more food retail options—and to establish an attractive commercial and civic gateway between the neighborhood and Kalamazoo's downtown district.

Even while the business was vacant, though, Ms. Woods remained proud of the site. The 2003 grocery store investment spurred development in the immediate area: a Family Dollar store, Little Caesar's pizza, a municipal public safety station, a community center, urban farming facilities, and more, all spun off from that initial investment.

Now, the Association has a new operator for the grocery store. The Detroit-based Shina Group, owner of 14 other urban grocery stores in Southeast Michigan, recently reopened the shuttered building’s doors as Park Street Market, the company’s first West Michigan grocery. The development attracted good coverage from the Kalamazoo Gazette.

Ms. Wood said the development might have turned out differently, and that would have been a big loss.

"If we didn't own this building, we wouldn't be in a position to decide what happens here in the future," she said. "We believe grocery stores are important for more than just providing fruits and vegetables. It's a young person's first job. It's an important part of our seniors' social lives, too. It's so many things in one; if you abandon it and say it's too hard, you pretty much abandon the neighborhood."

Assets and Opportunities
She's not about to do that. Despite troubling statistics, the neighborhood offers many assets and opportunities, she said. The two-square-mile area is 80 percent African American—one quarter of Kalamazoo's black population. Unemployment is in the 40 percent range. But, at around 35 percent, so is the college education rate.

"Yes, we have rundown houses here,” Ms. Woods said. "We also have beautiful houses and kids who graduate and go to college."

Ms. Woods is confident the grocery store will rise again when the new operator comes in and does what most successful businesses do: Cater to customers.

Tahirih Ziegler agrees. She's executive director of the Michigan Local Initiatives Support Corporation, which helped the Association conduct a feasibility study and finance the property purchase and building construction.

"There were a lot of marketing things Spartan could have done, but did not,” Ms. Ziegler said. “Also, in setting up the store, they didn't make adjustments when they saw things weren't selling."

The original operator, Feldpausch, a grocery chain in southwest Lower Michigan, turned a profit on the store within two years, as a feasibility study projected it would, Ms. Ziegler said. But Feldpausch sold out to Spartan Stores around 2007.

While the neighborhood grocery store has gone through its changes, the Association has kept busy on the food front with urban farming and food production investments.

The organization has made land next to the community center, which it built down the block from the grocery store, available for gardening. Additional land there could soon host an urban farming venture, which Ms. Woods believes is the key to both increasing healthy food consumption and growing jobs.

And the Association is now also renovating a building that will include a commercial kitchen and food processing spaces for local entrepreneurs.

Patty Cantrell founded the Michigan Land Use Institute’s Food & Farm Program and is its senior policy specialist. Reach her at pattycATmlui.org.
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