Why this grocery store initiative means so much to Flint

FLINT, Michigan—It is about having a local grocery store. It is about having access to fresh foods. And, it is about so much more.
It is, says Pastor Reginald Flynn of Foss Avenue Baptist Church, about healing.
The grocery store initiative in north Flint is part of a larger strategy to rebuild, revitalize, and redevelop the northside of Flint. Flynn is also president of the North Flint Reinvestment Corp., founded in 2009 to relocate businesses to north Flint and reverse decades’ of disinvestment.  

“We’re working specifically in terms of spurring economic development,” Flynn says.
The grocery store initiative—which brings together a variety of partners including churches, businesses, the Flint and Genesee Chamber of Commerce, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, and the Ruth Mott Foundation—will build two new grocery stores and help renovate four existing stores. It is designed to specifically address the lack of grocery stores in the neighborhoods (Flynn calls the northside “an extreme food desert”), and it also adds to the overall growth of the community.  
“We’ll see smaller businesses come into play, too,” Flynn says.

Related story: A neighbor's perspective: Flint grocery store initiative

Target neighborhoods

The Flint grocery store initiative will build two new grocery stores and help renovate four existing stores to address the "extreme food desert" on the northside of Flint..Planners originally considered working to attract a single, large national chain grocery store to Flint, but that proposal was altered to allow for a mixed-sized store approach to fill the gaps in multiple neighborhoods.
The grocery store initiative includes renovation of Landmark Food Center on Pierson Road, the Local Grocer on Martin Luther King Avenue, Mr. B’s Foodland on Dupont Street, and Hutchinson Food and Drug on North Saginaw Street.
It also will include two new grocery stores:
  • North Flint Reinvestment Corp is looking to begin construction in 2018 on property across the street from Eagle’s Nest Academy on West Pierson Road, which was founded by Flynn. “We’re looking at some environmental remediation issues going on with the property,” said Flynn. He noted that the North Flint Reinvestment Corp. is working closely with the Land Bank to resolve the issues.
  • Fresh Start CDC Inc. is looking at "an area along Saginaw Street and Hamilton Avenue” for the site of its grocery store, says Barry Turner, a board member who works alongside Pastor Patrick Sanders of New Jerusalem Baptist Church, which founded Fresh Start CDC. In the meantime, Fresh Start CDC has hosted pop-up grocery stores to bring food into the community. 
“Grocery stores are vital to well-functioning communities and an increase in store offerings will ensure north Flint residents won’t have to leave their immediate neighborhoods for goods and services,” said Handy Lindsey, president of the Ruth Mott Foundation, which gave grants of $75,000 in October and $110,000 in March to help fund the grocery store initiative through the chamber of commerce.
The Flint and Genesee Chamber noted that the investments provide access to healthy foods and jobs in the local community.
Mark Kattola, owner of Landmark Food Center, said he is hopeful and remains focused on the serving the community.

“We’ve been here for over 42 years, and we’ve been here for the community that whole time and we plan to be here for another 42 years,” Kattola said. “But we’re hoping that we can help stop people from leaving Flint, to convince people we still have a lot to offer here, to get people to come back.”

Neighborhood support

There is something very unique about the grocery store initiative. Sure it will have lots of fresh produce. It’s the business structure that is a bit unconventional.
Pastor Reginald Flynn is looking to bring in 1,500 residents as partners and investors in the North Flint Reinvestment Corp co-op grocery store.“This is really important to me. You see, we witnessed Kroger’s and Meijer’s exodus from the area and locals felt powerless,” he said. Flynn recalls, hearing a recurring message from community members, parishioners, neighbors and residents—all said they “wanted some control in the decision making process.”

So, Flynn and his board members established the store as a full co-op. A business model of community ownership that allows residents to have “a stake in this area’s future success.” The grocery store already has more than 400 members and a group equity of $50,000.

“We have a goal of reaching 1,500 members in the co-op and so we’re on an aggressive campaign to reach that goal, because it will demonstrate community support,” Flynn said. “It shows that if residents invest in the idea, then they believe in Flint’s future and they are less likely to leave the community.”

Read more articles by Jake Carah.

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