MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – When Wirth Cooperative Grocery opened its doors in north Minneapolis last month, the sands shifted in a neighborhood declared a food desert.
“Now we have a food island, please, come do some shopping,” said Emmett Hutchinson, a North Minneapolis native, who heads up marketing at Wirth Co-op.
Wirth Co-op is a vision a decade in the making. The north Minneapolis neighborhood is home to 63,000 residents, and has long been peppered with 36 corner convenience stores, but only one full service supermarket until Wirth Co-op’s doors opened August 10.
Many of the residents, also facing transportation barriers, have limited food access and have to travel a mile or more to get access to fresh food. An estimated 5,000 children in the neighborhood struggle with food insecurity.
“It was well needed, it was never available readily like this. This is a mom and pop store, we made it our community store now. This is for all of us,” said Hutchinson.
Hutchinson spearheads outreach to his neighborhood, focusing on educating kids facing food insecurity. Every Friday, Wirth Co-op offers free fruit for kids. The co-op has weekly sales to help keep prices more affordable in a small business.
“These are the most bountiful bunches of greens you will find in Minneapolis or St. Paul, for 99 cents a bunch, this is amazing,” said Snow Aukema, an assistant manager pointing out collard greens grown right down the street.
“I want to see community members getting to know each other in a different venue and more and more partnerships with local farms,” said Aukema.
Customers will see organic brands, next to familiar brands, reflecting the desires of the neighborhood. Oscar Mayer bologna sits right next to organic turkey in the deli.
Wirth Co-op isn't the only store serving the community needs and closing the gap, as three miles away on Humboldt Avenue, North Market will open later this year.
Ellie Lucas, CEO of Hunger Impact Partners, and Adair Mosley, interim of CEO of Pillsbury United Communities, are the driving forces behind the development, funding and opening North Market, a first of its kind non-profit grocery store that will also offer health services, education and community events. Construction is well underway.
“It’s significant – the reason we are seeing North Market and seeing Wirth Co-op is because those are locations where typically people have only been able to source through food through a corner store or gas station so now these alternatives for a full service grocery store are huge,” said Lucas.
“I think it will increase access to healthy foods, increase access and barriers to health care, and in our organization it is building community because we see grocery stores as these anchor institutions in community, and they are often times indicator of the health of a community,” said Mosley.
Mosley sees the opening of North Market, operated by Pillsbury United Communities, and Wirth Co-op as indicators of what he calls a ‘catalytic movement’ of revitalization in North Minneapolis. Two different grocery models have set out to serve north Minneapolis with the same mission, to make the desert disappear.
“We are setting the standard of what is coming into north Minneapolis, you have to include the people here in this community, they know best, they know the solutions to their own problems,” said Mosley. “At one point in time, north Minneapolis had many grocery stores, it was thriving and we have seen a decline and a disinvestment, so we are happy to be a part of this movement of bringing things back,” said Mosley.
North Market is slated to open in late December. Wirth Co-op will celebrate its grand opening in October.