Gem City Market opens soon. Supporters say it’s so much more than a store.

The long awaited opening of the Gem City Market is now just months away, and the project already has met some of its inclusion goals and is very close to meeting its membership goals.

But board members and supporters say they still have a lot of work to do to make sure that when the community-owned grocery store opens it lives up to its full potential and fulfills its community mission.

This isn’t just a new store ― it’s a movement toward community self-determination and creating a strong sense of belonging and place, said Amaha Selassie, Gem City Market board president.

“When we run into each other while shopping, or come together over a cup of coffee or attend a workshop together in the community room, that’s where we deepen our connections and relationships,” he said. “We use those relationships to develop a shared vision and collective hope that we all aspire to achieve together.”

After years of work, the Gem City Market is expected to open in the first quarter of 2021.

The market’s first organizing meeting was in 2015. Community surveys and business plan development began the following year.

The market is under construction and the goal was to have about 3,000 members by opening day.

As of Nov. 17, the market had about 2,980 members, said Lela Klein, a market board member and co-executive director of Co-op Dayton.

About 48.2% of its community member-owners live in the surrounding area (called the trade area), which includes the zip codes of 45402, 45405, 45406, 45416, 45417 and 45426. The goal is to get that up to 50% by the grand opening.

Residents who live in those zip codes can get a membership for $50 ― half off the normal membership price tag, thanks to a match program sponsored by Premier Health, Klein said. There are still about 370 neighborhood match memberships remaining.

Anyone can shop at the market. But members get discounts and are considered co-owners of the cooperative full-service grocery store.

The market has hired a general manager and expects to hire about 25 people, starting toward the end of this year. About 40% of workers are expected to be full-time.

The goal is to hire as many people from the surrounding neighborhood as possible and have a workforce that looks like the community it serves, said GM Leah Bahan-Harris.

“We will be an inclusive, equal opportunity employer with competitive wages, and our workers will have the chance to become worker-owners of the cooperative as well,” she said.

The Gem City Market board set an inclusion goal of having 30% of contractors and subcontractors on the construction project be minority- and women-owned businesses. The overall investment in the project is about $7 million.

The market also set a goal that at least 15% of workers on the project be minorities and women. The project has reached an enterprise goal of 34%, and as of Nov. 9, 36% of the work hours on the project were minority and women workers, Klein said.

“Part of our mission is to empower, so it’s not enough to just build a store ― we want to make sure we are also strengthening the economy of our community as we do that,” Klein said.

The market also has another goal of using local vendors for services whenever possible and getting 15% of its products from local sources.

Supporters say getting opening day is a big achievement, but the success of the store is making it a part of people’s regular shopping routines.

Bahan-Harris said she wants to hear from shoppers and the community when the store opens. She said she wants to know if they think anything is missing or could be done differently.

“I am also looking forward to hearing about your needs,” she said. “If it wasn’t for a need, we wouldn’t be here in the first place.”

Earlier this month, voters in the Gem City Market’s precinct overwhelmingly supported allowing alcohol sales at the store.

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