“There’s not that many building owners that want to manifest a vision like this,” Wright said, adding in an email: “Wealthy developers are favored over entrepreneurs like myself.”
“To combat these issues, Neighborhood Grocery is leveraging technology, crowdfunding, and alternative distribution models to launch our store,” he said in the email.
While profit margins may be low, just more than 1 percent, independent grocers have been a growing market in recent years, according to the 2020 Independent Grocers Financial Survey from the National Grocers Association and FMS Solutions Holdings LLC. Same-store sales grew 2.5 percent in 2019, the survey found. As of mid-2020, sales were up more than 13 percent year-on-year.
“The 5,000-square-foot market will definitely put an impact in that and fill a need, but it won’t fill the total need for a full-service grocery store to come into the area,” said Derric Scott, CEO of the East Jefferson Development Corp., a real estate development group under nonprofit Jefferson East Inc.
But fresh, hot food is a major priority the organization hears about from residents, he added. So Neighborhood Grocery could meet that desire.
East Jefferson Development and Jefferson East in July released a master plan for updating the Jefferson-Chalmers commercial corridor. The area is also being targeted by the Detroit government for investment under the Strategic Neighborhood Fund.
A 2018 market study showed there’s high demand for groceries in Jefferson Chalmers and that it could support a full-service, 30,000-square-foot grocery store. The city identified a property along Jefferson Avenue for a future mixed-use development anchored by a grocer, but no user has been chosen.
Wright’s store was called Neighborhood Grocery in previous iterations — in Linwood and Islandview neighborhood spaces where real estate deals fell apart, one due to lack of financing during COVID-19. Neighborhood Grocery is a subsidiary of Urban Plug. Wright now expects to name the new, smaller incarnation of the grocery store Manistique Market, after the liquor store that previously occupied the building.
In a pandemic-inspired pivot, Wright plans to build out urban farms for approximately $20,000 on four vacant lots near Jefferson Chalmers that he owns to supply Manistique Market. At first he would source most of his produce from distributors and a little from the farms, but he wants to eventually become independent of produce suppliers. The system has faced upheaval during the pandemic, spilling over from shifting demand as restaurants closed and people stayed home, many ordering online from big-box grocers.
“We’re dedicating more time toward farming and owning land so we can control distribution,” he said.
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