Gem City Market: A Response to Dayton’s Food Desert

This is what Gem City Market – a grocery store co-op opening near downtown Dayton – will look like. Photos courtesy of Kenya Baker 

Grace Dipierro 
News Staff Writer

This story was written before the suspension of in-person classes and closure of campus housing for most students due to the coronavirus pandemic

The city of Dayton is faced with numerous challenges when it comes to food deserts. Dayton has been looking for ways to respond to growing food insecurity, and Gem City Market is one of those responses. 

Gem City Market is a full-service grocery store located near downtown Dayton on Salem Avenue. The new grocery store aims to be a vibrant and community-oriented asset to those in and around Dayton. 

The mission of Gem City Market is to “serve, engage, and empower our neighborhoods by providing affordable, high-quality food in a clean and welcoming environment that is worker and community owned.”

Along with being a grocery store near downtown, Gem City Market will provide access to a cafe, a teaching kitchen and a clinic

In an effort to respond to food insecurity, Gem City Market is trying to meet the diverse needs of customers in the Dayton area. They are trying to serve customers on a limited grocery budget while making sure they have access to healthy and fresh food. 

Gem City Market will provide affordable kitchen essentials, ranging from fresh produce and meat to local and organic products that give the store a unique flare. 

However, Gem City Market is not just a grocery store. The store will also provide access to a cafe, a teaching kitchen and a clinic. Gem City Market plans to host several programs and nutrition classes to help supplement the access to food. 

Gem City Market chose its Salem Avenue location after conducting a market study by a national wholesaler. The results of the study suggested that this location was an area with low food-access that also had the population density and market potential required to maintain business. 

Other locations were considered, but some did not meet requirements for population density, making them less-viable contenders. 

Despite this, Gem City Market is still looking for ways to serve residents that may live further from the chosen location. The organization is exploring options to make this work, possibly through a satellite location or grocery delivery. 

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The total cost to build and launch Gem City Market is estimated to be around $3.9 million. Through membership sales, community donations, loan opportunities, and philanthropy, Gem City Market is working to raise money to fund their project. They also plan to seek local, federal, and state funding. 

Community members have an opportunity to have a voice in the process of creating and maintaining Gem City Market by becoming member-owners. This role involves attending and participating in annual member meetings. 

However, becoming a member-owner is not the only way to have an impact. Individuals can also participate by reaching out on social media, emailing or calling, or attending community meetings. 

The Gem City Market project is coordinated by Co-op Dayton and is meant to be a community-led initiative. 

Founded in 2015 by members of the Dayton community, Co-op Dayton is dedicated to addressing Dayton’s food crisis while finding ways to support sustainable jobs in Dayton. 

A cooperative (co-op) is a business or organization that is owned and operated for the benefit of the individuals using its services. Any money or profits generated by the co-op are distributed among the members, and anyone can become a part of the co-op by buying a share. 

The mission of Co-op Dayton is to “create an economy that works for everyone — an economy that supports family sustaining jobs, provides opportunities for underserved and marginalized people, and is accountable to the communities that drive it.”

The Co-op Dayton committee is comprised of residents who live in the same neighborhood as the future store, as well as other representatives from important organizations in Dayton, such as universities, healthcare and faith institutions. 

While food insecurity has a significant impact on the Dayton community, the issue of food insecurity is not unique to Dayton. The town of Springfield is struggling with a similar issue.

The impact of food deserts in Springfield has a personal connection to Grammy Award winning artist and Springfield native John Legend. 

Legend says the Kroger on South Limestone Street is the store that some of his family and friends shop at. When he heard this Kroger was closing down, he was prompted to reach out to the city to see how he could help. Legend hopes to establish both a temporary and long-term solution. 

The Abilities Connection (TAC) is a non-profit organization located in Springfield that has partnered with the city to find a solution for the pressing issue of the Kroger closing. 

Beginning on March 7, TAC will provide a free shuttle service from the Kroger on South Limestone Street to the Kroger located on East Main Street. 

The shuttle will run on Wednesdays from 4:30 pm to 8:00 pm and on Saturdays and Sundays from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm. 

Gem City Market, meanwhile, is under construction. A groundbreaking ceremony for Gem City Market took place on Sept. 18. At the ceremony, more than 2,200 people involved in the project grabbed shovels and broke ground for Gem City Market. 

“We’re looking at a fall 2020 opening,” said Lela Klein, executive director of Co-op Dayton. “So, we say next year we hope you’ll be getting your Thanksgiving turkey at Gem City Market.”

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