Food co-op grocery proposed for West Dayton

Area known for food deserts has lacked a larger store since 2008.

A local group proposes establishing a worker- and member-owned grocery store in West Dayton to improve access to healthy foods in an area known for its food deserts.

The Greater Dayton Union Cooperative Initiative is polling local citizens about their interest in a full-service grocery cooperative for the Salem Avenue corridor just north of the Great Miami River.

The initiative is engaging in market research about the feasibility of opening a co-op.

West Dayton has been unable to attract a large grocer since the Kroger on Gettysburg Avenue closed in 2008.

Community members and leaders for years have discussed ways to bring businesses to impoverished urban areas on the west side that sell good-quality and nutritious foods.

“It’s a unique concept because it’s worker owned … and it’s really a grassroots effort to address a problem,” said Yvette Kelly-Fields, director of the Wesley Community Center, which initially was involved in the initiative.

The Greater Dayton food co-op initiative’s mission is to fill the nutritional gap in under-served neighborhoods by providing access to healthy food options, employment opportunities and dietary education.

West Dayton is a collection of food deserts, where affordable, healthy food choices are scarce, except in limited supply in some small markets and retail stores, such as Dollar General on Salem Avenue.

But the cooperative is working on changing that by bringing a cooperative to a half-mile stretch of Salem Avenue between Grand Avenue and the river.

Right now, the group is asking citizens to respond to an online survey about their shopping habits, customer preferences, interest in specific services and products and other topics.

Cooperatives are a form of business ownership.

They work because they are deeply in touch with and responsive to the neighborhoods they serve because they are owned by workers and community members, said Kristen Barker, executive director of the Cincinnati Union Co-op Initiative, which is establishing a cooperative in the Queen City and is assisting the efforts in Dayton.

“Workers are part-owners and want it to function as best as possible to meet customer needs, and they are really motivated to come up with creative solutions to make it work,” Barker said.

Cooperatives meet community needs for food access while providing sustainable employment, and by design they can succeed in lower-income areas because they are not driven by profit margins, Barker said. The stores need only be financially viable, she said.

Erica Bruton, who is leading the local initiative, did not return requests for comment.

People who live in food deserts tend to be less healthy than residents with easy food access, and West Dayton residents would benefit greatly from a store that has fresh fruits and vegetables and a diversity of food products at an affordable price, said Kelly-Fields.

The collaborative element also would support community building, and the project is on the path to success after receiving seed money to support feasibility research, she said.

“They have made consistent progress,” she said.

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