Food desert no more: Gem City Market opens for business



The Gem City Market is more than just a grocery store ― it’s a community-led movement, an oasis in the middle of a food desert and a major investment in an underserved area — which became clear when more than 175 people gathered and applauded as it opened on Wednesday.

“This is an amazing sign of what’s to come,” said DaQuawna Farrow, a member of a faith-based advisory board for the market who plans to frequently shop at there. “I think people are really excited about something they know won’t up and leave them and they’re excited about something that has their well-being in mind.`”

Many customers said the Gem City Market will greatly reduce their travel time to grocery shop, and they believe in the store’s mission and want it to succeed. Community members danced and clapped as a DJ played music outside the store Wednesday, and the crowd roared when people started being let in.

Within minutes of opening, lines began to form at the checkout counters that quickly snaked deep into the aisles. Another line formed to get into the store.

Michael Knote, 38, of Dayton, was the market’s first customer, and he purchased a couple of deli sandwiches and bottled water. He said he wanted to be part of the historic moment and support the market.

Knote usually buys groceries online or at Dorothy Lane Market, but said he will make a point to shop at the Gem City Market that’s just a few miles from his home.

“Considering there aren’t a lot of places to shop, this is everything,” he said.

Sandra Turner, 55, who lives a few blocks from the market, said she looks forward to walking to pick up groceries.

“This meets all my shopping needs,” she said. “It’s going to make the community a lot better and it’s easy access.”

Nicole Campbell, 48, has lived in the Dayton View neighborhood all of her life.

She said she’s seen retail businesses come and go, but the area hasn’t had a grocery store nearby in a long time and this market is special.

“It’s bringing our neighborhood back together,” she said. “I love it. ... This is more convenient for us.”

Campbell and other customers said the closure of Kroger in the 900 block of North Gettysburg Avenue in 2008 was a major loss that left many West Dayton residents without healthy food choices nearby. They said the Gem City Market is going to make a big difference in the health and well being of many people.

The market also has community space and a health clinic area, and will host cooking classes and other instructional programming.

“There are a lot of markets that left this community desperate,” said Farrow, with the faith-based advisory board. “The difference is we have a vote ― I’m a member, I’m a member owner, and we have a say in what happens with this market.”

The market is owned by its 25 employees and more than 4,000 members. Anyone can shop at the store, and members get discounts and other benefits.

Some customers who don’t live in Dayton say they plan on making the Gem City Market their primary grocery destination because they believe in its cause.

A few minor hiccups occurred shortly after opening on Wednesday. Early on, some shelves still didn’t have price tags and customers weren’t immediately able to pay using their food stamp benefits cards.

But by Thursday morning, the market was accepting SNAP EBT benefits (formerly called food stamps).

Lela Klein, a member of the Gem City Market board, said the market got off to a good start and employees and supporters are collecting feedback from customers to make sure their needs are met, and the store will make changes if warranted.

Klein said the market remained busy all of Wednesday, and there was a line out the door the entire day. She said they were overwhelmed by the amount of support, and the energy was “palpable.”

Betty Dawson, 70, of Trotwood, said she hunts around for the best bargains, and the Gem City Market’s prices so far look competitive compared to other stores she visits. She plans to come back to compare prices when it’s less crowded.

Dawson, who is retired, said she visits grocery stores practically every day, and the Gem City Market is convenient because it is on the way from her home to downtown.

“It’s beautiful,” she said. “The selection is great.”

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