‘We built this together:’ Gem City Market sets grand opening for May 12

Kenya Baker,  Gem City Market community engagement director, stands outside the marker on Wednesday, April 28, 2021. After years of planning and work, the Gem City Market is announcing its grand opening. STAFF / CORY FROLIK
Caption
Kenya Baker, Gem City Market community engagement director, stands outside the marker on Wednesday, April 28, 2021. After years of planning and work, the Gem City Market is announcing its grand opening. STAFF / CORY FROLIK

Dayton’s first cooperative grocery store opens next month bringing fresh food and new investment to lower Salem Avenue, an area where both have long been scarce.

The Gem City Market, one of the most closely watched projects in the Dayton area, announced on Wednesday that its grand opening will be in two weeks, at noon Wednesday, May 12.

ExplorePHOTOS: Gem City Market set to open. Here's a sneak peek

“It’s kind of a speechless moment,” said Amaha Sellassie, president of the Gem City Market board. “To be in this moment, it’s amazing to see and witness.”

Sellassie, co-executive director of Co-op Dayton, added that it’s a testament to Dayton and the region to see how everyone came together in the last six years to make this vision a reality.

“We built this moment together,” Sellassie said. “The community’s fingerprint is in throughout (the market).”

Community members tour the Gem City Market after the cooperative grocery store announced it will host a grand opening on May 12. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF
Caption
Community members tour the Gem City Market after the cooperative grocery store announced it will host a grand opening on May 12. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

The market, located at 324 Salem Ave., already has shelves and coolers stocked with nonperishable items, but supporters say they need a little more time to put the finishing touches on the store.

In the coming weeks, staff will continue to stock shelves, finish training on the checkout process and review surveys and emails to make sure the market is carrying items shoppers want.

Years of hard work are finally paying off, supporters say, and the market is a major victory in the battle against food deserts in west and northwest Dayton.

“We did it ― come and shop,” said Kenya Baker, outreach director for Co-op Dayton. “Make Gem City Market your first stop. If you are hungry, you provided yourself with a grocery store.”

About 19,000 residents live within a mile and a half of the Gem City Market, and the food co-op will greatly reduce their travel time to get groceries, market board members say.

Visitors tour the Gem City Market on Wednesday, after supporters announced the food cooperative will host a grand opening on May 12. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF
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Visitors tour the Gem City Market on Wednesday, after supporters announced the food cooperative will host a grand opening on May 12. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

The market has about 8,000 square feet of retail space, a community space, a community kitchen and an area for a health clinic.

The community and clinic spaces will host health screenings, after-school children’s programming, yoga sessions and other events, while the community kitchen will offer cooking classes and demonstrations and educational programming.

Gem City Market is one of a small number of food co-ops in the state, and it is likely one of the only worker- and community-owned, full-service grocery stores in the nation, supporters say.

The market’s product variety, including what are considered convention groceries, also makes it stand out from many other food cooperatives.

The Gem City Market hopes to cater to a diverse range of customers, from bargain-seekers to foodies, by offering low cost options, brand name products and local and organic products.

About 40,000 people live in west Dayton neighborhoods, but they haven’t had a full-service grocery store in a long time, Sellassie said.

The Gem City Market will sell affordable and fresh meats, fruits, vegetables and other products that are in woefully short supply in west Dayton neighborhoods, he said.

Dollar stores and small markets sell some food products, but they have limited selections and their prices tend to be significantly higher than full-service grocery stores, he said.

Nonperishable food products line the shelves of the Gem City Market, which is preparing to open on May 12. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF
Caption
Nonperishable food products line the shelves of the Gem City Market, which is preparing to open on May 12. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

The market will fulfill food needs but also will provide community members with spaces to meet, collaborate, connect and learn how to improve their health, diets and lifestyles, Sellassie said.

The future of the market and its success will be determined by the community, because they own it, he said.

“We’ve been saying, ‘We are the ones we’ve been waiting for,’” he said. “It’s the gifts and talents of the community that made this happen.”

The market now has nearly 4,000 members, more than half of whom live in the trade area, supporters say.

Anyone can shop at the market, but the store is owned by workers and community members, who have a say in market decisions and members also receive special discounts.

“We built this together,” said Leah Bahan-Harris, the market’s general manager.