Gem City Market: a community co-op grocery store

On May 12 the Gem City Market, a vibrant, community-centered, full-service grocery store located along lower Salem Avenue opened. Photo of Gem City Market courtesy of Glenna Jennings.

Maddy Bartsche | Arts & Entertainment Editor

Opening this past May, the Gem City Market features affordable, quality kitchen staples, including well-stocked fresh produce and meat departments as well as specialty local and organic products that make the store a great option for all Daytonians. In addition, the 16,000 square foot building features a kitchen where community members can gather to learn and share recipes, a community room for classes such as yoga and nutrition, and a clinic.

The primary trade area for GCM is considered a “food desert” based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service’s definition (an area where more than 40% of the population has an income less than or equal to 200% of the Federal Poverty Threshold and lives more than a mile from a supermarket or large grocery store). In recent years, the term “food apartheid” has been used to describe areas like the one surrounding the market, given a history of discrimination and redlining practices that led to unequal food access.

According to Sarah Richard, the outreach coordinator for GCM, a public meeting held in 2015 drew the community together to realize and address the need for improved food access. 

When asked about the inspiration behind the market, Leah Bahan-Harris, general manager of GCM, said, “I think the need to inspire. The market was in a food apartheid and there was a need for access to food. We also discovered there could be more, so we do have the clinic, the kitchen and the community room space where the community can come together. That’s not something that’s very prevalent in this part of town.”

Bahan-Harris added, “The market being open is a testament of what we can do as a community when we come together. I think it’s an amazing endeavor that we went into and an amazing experience to be a servant and a leader for me in this market.”

The market aims to fulfill the needs of community members by offering options for Daytonians with a limited grocery budget as well as those with a more disposable income. 

Not only is the pricing strategy inclusive, but Bahan-Harris also spoke about how the market atmosphere makes everyone feel welcomed. 

Photo of the GMC courtesy of Sarah Richards.

When speaking about other ways the market fulfills community needs Bahan-Harris said, “I think a need in the community is to feel ownership and empowerment and to have something to invest in. I think the market addresses several needs; It gives the community not only hope, but something tangible. The market itself created over 25 jobs and we budgeted over $600,000 in the first year directly to go to labor and the employees.”

The market is a co-op, a business owned by and operated for the benefit of those using it and functions similarly to how a democratic body does. An elected board of directors runs the co-op and hires day-to-day management, while members control the direction of the co-op through their voting power. Profits and earnings generated by the co-op are distributed amongst the members, and people can become a member of the co-op by purchasing a share.

You may be asking yourself: how can I help? If you have any interest in finding a way to give back to your community by becoming a member visit to learn more about membership options. Overall, students can help by looking for ways to be sustainable on a daily basis, supporting local farmers and doing research on where your products come from.

On a small scale, Bahan-Harris mentioned that students can simply be grateful when they buy food. 

Looking towards the future, Bahan-Harris said, “I hope in five years we will be a blossoming space where the community feels full freedom to be engaged and to see themselves here — not just for a shopping experiencel, but for activities the market holds as well.”

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