By TED CARTER
Erasing even a single Mississippi food desert is a cause for celebration, say supporters of a multi-year effort to turn back the spread of communities lacking any fresh-food options.
So, no surprise lots of smiles and applause accompanied the grand opening earlier this month of Cash & Carry Fresh Food Market at 3520 Terry Road in an expansive stand-alone building Kroger vacated nearly two years ago. Kroger’s departure left residents in a several-mile radius with no place to buy fresh food, especially vegetables and other produce.
Speaking at the store opening ceremony, Ward 4 City Council member De’Keither Stamps emphasized eliminating the food desert in South Jackson shows Jacksonians can “go all-in together.”
“There is nothing wrong with Jackson that can’t be fixed by the folks in Jackson,” Stamps said. “We can save ourselves.”
The task ahead, he said, is to support store owners Greg Price and his brother Chester in making the new Cash & Carry Fresh Food Market a success. “We can’t afford for Mr. Price” and his brother “to fail.”
If they do, Stamps warned, “Other people who would like to go all-in for Jackson, who have the means to go all-in for Jackson, will not go all-in for Jackson.”
Stamps also emphasized that “every dollar you spend here goes back into” the pockets of someone in Jackson.
Greg and Chester Price bought the 50,000 square-foot former Kroger building for an undisclosed price. The purchase included $1.5 million in loans and $250,000 in private investment.
The opportunity to own the building influenced the decision to close the Cash & Carry store at 1204 W. Capitol St. in a building Price had rented since 2005.
Price voiced surprise that the Terry Road area became an urban food desert in the first place. “We’re now in a perfect location,” he said.
About 10,000 cars travel daily through the Terry and Cooper roads intersection at which his new store is situated, Price said. That compared to about 2,000 at the former location on Capitol Street, he added.
High traffic volume or not, the neighborhood was without access to a food market, Price said. “Indeed, this was a food desert,” he added, and noted the closest fresh food retailer was about 10 miles south to Byram or about eight miles north to midtown Jackson.
“We’re able to fill that void,” he said of the store he will own jointly with Chester Price, a retired Army lieutenant colonel.
While fresh produce will account for a large portion of the store’s sales, Greg Price also expects to see strong sales from a portion of the store set aside for large-volume food offerings and institutional supplies other businesses will buy. “I’d say 25 percent of our customers are small business owners who can shop here and get a better buy here for their money than from a distributor. When you buy from a distributor, they require you order $500 minimum per trip.”
It took a good bit of work and money to get the former Kroger building ready for its recent opening, according to Price.
Water damage was extensive, he noted.
“We had to pretty much replace the roof,” Price said. “Because it had been sitting here for two years, we had to replace a lot of the tiles on the floor and ceiling as well.”
Price received $1.5 million in financing from Jackson-based Hope Federal Credit Union, said Ed Sivak, chief policy and communications officer. “We’re really excited about this project,” he said.
To make the loan, Hope tapped $1 million in low-cost capital from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Community Development Financial Institutions’ Heathy Food Financing Initiative. The initiative, which includes the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services, helps to expand access to nutritious food in under-served and distressed communities. The effort includes developing and equipping grocery stores, small retailers, corner stores and farmers’ markets.
In addition to $1 million form the Treasury Department food program, the Cash and Carry Fresh Food Market received a $250,00 Hope Federal Credit loan and another $250,000 in private money.
“We’re particularly proud of our investment in Jackson. It is right in our back yard,” Sivak said, and noted Hope has a credit union nearby at Terry Road and University Avenue.