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East End News

East End Grocery: Oasis in a desert

The Grocery Store: Meet the people who are building an oasis in our neighborhood.

This is the first of a series of articles on the upcoming East End Grocery Store. We wanted to first introduce you to the players and the reasons why they’re motivated to run a grocery store in our neighborhood. We think this is important in setting the tone for what’s coming. In the next several weeks we’ll be talking about the expectations, the history, the name, the offerings and cost and much more.

Let’s begin with a closer look at the players. Starting with Norm Gold.

Norm Gold is the former Chief Operating Officer at FeedMore. He comes from a long background of grocery store work, both in the for-profit sector and non-profit sector. “He’s the guy who knows how to run a grocery store and he’s the guy that’s charged with operating the grocery store,” says Melissa Brooks, associate professor at J. Sergeant Reynolds Community College Community. “I thought that this quote from the Richmond Times Dispatch was really interesting to set the tone for Norm and what he’s going to bring to the discussion– the best advice he ever received: “Be careful to always listen to your staff, don’t assume anything.” By listening and hearing from the community, Norm Gold and his team have shown a commitment and investment in our community.

Mike Maruca is Norm’s partner, focusing on community engagement. “I always tell people if I had to choose five people to be in the foxhole with me in like nuclear winter or something, Mike is one of those people”. Mike is the head of school at the Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School which is a tuition-free independent school on North 29th street, right between Woodville Elementary and Creighton Court.

Why a grocery store at this point in your career?

Back in 1972, I started in the grocery business, Southern California bagging groceries for Lucky stores. Been in the grocery business for 24 years. After 24 years I decided I wanted to make a different, second career in my life and went into food banking. Been doing food banking for 20 years starting in Phoenix, Arizona. I’ve done food banking in Phoenix, Miami, Ohio, Montana. I also do work in Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. I’m on the board for Second Harvest Asia. Food banking is my life and my passion; helping out people, organizations, and communities are my passion. The grocery store is also my passion. I’m able to do both my passion together in my final career. My final career is going to be this: creating a store in Church Hill. One that’s been talked about for decades I guess, but hasn’t been successful. It’s not going to be easy I can tell you that.

Why hasn’t there been a grocery store in this area?

There’s a reason why chains don’t go into this area. They can’t make it. It’s not going to be a huge profit maker. Wegmans and Kroger are going to go into an area identified where they’re going to make some money. They’re going to hold off on going into a smaller community where there are mixed incomes. They won’t come in here and that’s why there hasn’t been one, or there hasn’t been a successful one, in decades. We’re fortunate because we have Steven and Kathy Markel. They’re the investors that are putting this together. They’re in it because they want to help out the community. They don’t want to make money on this. They’re not here to make a profit. That’s what sold me.

What are some of the amenities you’d like to have in the store?

The store’s going to have a VCU Health and Wellness Center adjacent to it. It’s going to have the Sergeant Reynold’s Culinary School across the street from it. We’re looking at putting in a bank and a pharmacy. We’re trying to work on finding a couple of them now. We want to have services there that everybody wants to see.

What is the involvement of Steve and Kathy Markel?

It seems to extraordinarily rare that some folks would bring resources like they’re bringing to a community. As far as I know from my interactions with Steve I think he would be just as happy to fade into the background and never have his name mentioned. That’s the kind of person he is. That makes it even more extraordinary of a potential asset in the community. It’s a wonderful thing that they’re doing. More than anything they just want it to be a community asset for all of Church Hill. In addition, when the store does turn a profit, they will put it into the community.

How are you coping with some of the challenges that people are bringing up? There are a lot of expectations about the store.

I think there’s also going to be a temptation on the part of many of us to bring maybe an inordinate amount of hope, or expectation, or whatever it might be that we each as individuals carry within us and put it on that grocery store. I think we have to try and steer in-between the reality of this being such a wonderful, wonderful opportunity and soon to be in less than a year a reality, and then also to try and keep it in perspective as well. You don’t want this store to bear the weight of all of our expectations.

One of the things I think about are who are going to be the key employees working there? Who are the people who are going to have that real sense of ownership? Like this is their baby that they’re taking care of – who give it this unique feel and sense of welcome and being at home. People who are invested in it and are supported by it. This is an extraordinary opportunity in a neighborhood like this for employment for quite a few folks. The numbers I’ve heard are as many as 60.

What are the specs of the store? Like how big is it?

The store is going to be 25,000 square feet which is about half a size of a Publix. It’s really important we hear what everybody wants to see in the store from the people who live in Mosby and Creighton Court, from the millennials, from the middle class. Everyone of every income needs to have feedback on what they want to see and what they don’t want to see. That’ll help us create the store. Find out what it is.

So neighbors, let’s start thinking about what kind of store you’d want.

  • What kind of services do you want to see?
  • What kind of food do you want to see?
  • Do you want to see sushi?
  • Do you want to see hot foods ready to go?
  • Do you want to have a Blue Apron kind of thing where you can come in and take a meal home and prepare it there?
  • What conveniences do you want to see?

Sound off in the comments!

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32 comments

BAF 04/09/2018 at 8:49 AM

At the outset, I’m not worried about the store providing sushi or Blue Apron-type services. I’m going to be looking for more basic operational abilities for long term success. Are the store and parking lot spotless? Are the prices competitive? Are they offering a good brand mix? Is there a visible commitment to security? Are the hours convenient? How are they operating to make this more convenient for me with services like delivery and pick-up? How well are the checkout lanes staffed? How well-trained and friendly is the staff? What are the quality of meat and produce?

This is a new store with no chain track record to fall back on. While Norm is very experienced, this is also a very competitive business and to make this work without it being a total philanthropy/subsidized food pantry, it’s going to have to meet the needs of people like me with the means to drive and buy elsewhere if there’s a hint that this isn’t a quality competitor, while remaining price and product-mix compatible for folks in Creighton without those means and for whom this is going to be a critical option. That’s a very difficult balancing act to get right. Get that right at the most basic operational level has to be the priority in my view.

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duron chavis 04/09/2018 at 9:19 AM

I would like to see minority businesses get contracts in the development of this effort. 30 million dollars in construction and not 1 minority contractor has been identified to be involved yet. this is a travesty and showcases how white owned businesses are empowered by “solving” black and brown pain. Adding insult to injury, the grocery store will increase the property values of the area, as more and more of the neighborhood is gentrified the rental amounts of the area will increase – the combination will push black and brown people out at an even higher rate than was before. Unless there is intentional efforts to address wealth inequity – this effort – while it sounds good will actually hurt folks because they were excluded from an economic empowerment opportunity AGAIN.

Realistically, the data shows that a grocery store is not enough to create an “oasis” in a food desert. Food deserts as a concept are a misnomer. These urban areas are the result of racist policies (redlining) and benign neglect. if you want to solve the issue of food deserts – address wealth inequity and the systems that keep black and brown people out of the loop of 30 million dollar contracts.

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MP 04/09/2018 at 9:36 AM

Things I want:
Lots of really good fresh produce, that will stay fresh for a whole week after buying. Lots of low-price organic offerings (like the Simple Truth products at Kroger).

Things I don’t want:
Loiterers outside! Smelliness. Dirty isles.

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Jenny Childress Simpson
Jenny Childress Simpson 04/09/2018 at 10:07 AM

Exceptional people involved with this project. Well done, great work!

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Karen Smith
Karen Smith 04/09/2018 at 10:35 AM

Nice job CHPN!

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HW 04/09/2018 at 10:39 AM

@2 what’s the basis for that?(MWBE inclusion) location of the project? public dollars involved? etc

to the broader question, the focus needs to remain on simply being a good quality grocer with competitive selection and pricing.

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Ashley S. 04/09/2018 at 11:01 AM

This project saddens me, it is an attempt to raise the value of the area and to out price the people who have been living here for generations. This is what white people do. Not a single minority person is in charge of or awarded any contracts to do anything here in this minority area. Addressing the racial inequality in wealth distribution is imperative. Other wise it’s just more of the white savior complex.. But really they are not saving anything they are out pricing and deliberately pushing out the people who have always been here. That’s the white mans calling card.. Take over and push all the black people out.

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Leon Buckminster Lewis
Leon Buckminster Lewis 04/09/2018 at 12:03 PM

Did you all do a profile on the owners of Chimborazo Market? That’s a grocery store…

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Church Hill People
Church Hill People's News 04/09/2018 at 1:02 PM

It’s coming!

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Leon Buckminster Lewis
Leon Buckminster Lewis 04/09/2018 at 3:16 PM

Church Hill People’s News awesome, it should.

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BAF 04/09/2018 at 1:22 PM

@2

I would hope that if a minority contractor provided the best combination of cost and quality, that they would have been awarded the job. In fact, I would hope that cost and quality would be the only factors in giving out contracts. This project is more philanthropic than profit for the developer as I understand it. I assume that would require all contractors hired to have put forward the best price with a track record of quality work to reduce the cost burden to the developer who may well lose money on this project to begin with.

Also there is no guarantee the grocery store will raise property values. If the store fails (something I legitimately fear given what has been published about the business model) then the large vacant building would potentially lower property values.

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Joseph Carson
Joseph Carson 04/09/2018 at 3:21 PM

Let’s see it before we hype it

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Minnie 04/09/2018 at 3:46 PM

It’s a catch 22.

-We need a decent, safe supermarket to address the food availability issue.

-A decent supermarket will contribute to gentrification and drive low income people away.

You’re welcome to resolve that riddle, nobody has managed to do it, as far as I know. A minority contractor won’t magically curtail rent hikes. As a brown person, I really don’t care what race the developers are, as long as they do a good job, which it sounds like they’re doing.

If anything, I’m not going to be the one shutting down every single initiative that is remotely good for our neighborhood, and will support this supermarket as much as I can, as long as it’s safe to do so.

I don’t plan on going to Chimbo anytime soon because their offerings are not great (it’s more like a Dollar Tree than a grocery store), and I’ve been harassed in the parking lot before. I don’t blame the managers at Chimbo, but I just can’t deal with weirdos who may or may not be dangerous.

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Michael T. 04/09/2018 at 4:39 PM

Was talking about the grocery store and other business ventures coming to Church Hill a few days ago.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe there has been plenty of time for business people of any race, male or female, to have come in and jump start a project like this.
Everyone here has made a valid point. Its a fine line that will be both postive and negative for the community.
Quality and healthy food options. Competitive prices. Clean and safe store.
I also appreciate CHPN for posting comments from both sides. Thank you for that.

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Tim P. 04/09/2018 at 5:09 PM

Ashley S.
How is this project an ‘attempt’ to raise property values and push people? While that might be a result of this I think it’s ignorant of you to say that the developer is trying to do this. Markel is not a real estate developer and would have no reason to increase property values and push people. In fact he’s trying to help the people that have been here for generations, which yes can be a whole other conversation. While I agree with you sentiment in general, it sounds like in your opinion while we try and create a larger change in our country to help our poor and discriminated populations we should also just let them eat bad quality food and rack up medical bills because of the lack of available nutrition within our neighbourhood. There is much change that needs to happen in this country but complaining about a grocery store that is going to try it’s hardest to focus on ALL the needs of the neighbourhood isn’t going to help that. I’m assuming you didn’t go to any of the community meetings with Norm Gold himself that specifically addressed some of the issues you mention.

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Michael Dodson 04/09/2018 at 5:29 PM

Something along the lines of the products at a Wal-Mart neighborhood market would be nice. Basic products but with some options epecially for organic fresh produce, veggies, and meat. The fact that Farm Fresh/Supervalu can’t find a buyer for the Shockoe store is not a good sign.

What I truly want to see a city endorsed/funded project and non-chain grocery store in a low-income area survive more than a year in business thanks to residential and CITY support after it opens. I know Norm has addressed the concerns before but I still worry as the track record nationwide is not good.

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Latoya M Owens 04/10/2018 at 6:55 AM

This sounds like a great idea for our community I live in East end I’m not a fan of combo nor community pride those stores give me the chills and the customer service is not always great I buy in bulk from Sam’s or bj I’m a single parent and finding good fresh food and produce with reasonable prices such as Kroger’s or Walmart would be great maybe a deli or seafood department would be a great add to the store….i just hope the store run steady and the guest will feel at home and welcomed with out the beggers how could u apply for employment

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BAF 04/10/2018 at 7:23 AM

@16

The Farm Fresh location not selling may not be a reflection of the profit potential of the neighborhood as much as the logistical challenges and footprint of that property. It’s small by current mainline chain standards, and the parking lot is not acceptable for most chains. I’m not aware of a chain in the market that the property is well-suited to given its configuration and limitations.

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BAF 04/10/2018 at 7:27 AM

@16

Also it is not the role of government to ensure the long-term survival and/or subsidization of a private business. That’s never going to happen.

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Sarah 04/10/2018 at 8:47 AM

(Sharing my demographic for EEG’s data capture efforts) Female, borderline GenX/Millennial, parent of two children: I second really good, fresh produce and herbs. I’m not particularly invested in it being local or organic, but am invested in good, year-round variety and longevity. I would also like to see bulk foods (grains, beans, spices, ingredients – not just pre-mixed granolas) and a range of ethnic foods. Thanks for taking community feedback into consideration!

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ian 04/10/2018 at 8:47 AM

@18 This is also a big area where some of the city zoning comes into play. The Farm Fresh location is ripe for redevelopment with a higher density building and without forced parking minimums. They are right across the street from a Pulse station and, very importantly, it is the pulse station where the rest of the east end buses connect so it is actually a single bus ride away from much of the city. That is now a prime location for a multi-story development.

Grocery stores *can* be more than one floor and you can absolutely put pharmacies and doctor’s offices, or other services that can benefit from the connectivity, on top of them. You just have to build the transit and relax the parking requirements.

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Rachel 04/10/2018 at 10:00 AM

The East End has a major need for fresh fruits and vegetables. Perhaps working with local farms in the immediate area (Shalom Farms is one such farm) to source these items. Maybe focus less on services and extra resources (those can be added later), but providing the things that most people need in the neighborhood and can afford should be a priority.

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UH Neighb 04/10/2018 at 12:44 PM

In agreement with Rachel, LaToya and others — before additional special services, I think the emphasis should be on quality affordable produce, with standards like deli and meat/fish counter, plus a clean, safe and welcoming store entry.

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BAF 04/10/2018 at 1:20 PM

@21

I agree in general–color me a BIG skeptic on the Pulse being successful and making any economic impact though. The problem with redevelopment is that lengthens the timeline even more in terms of when the site will be reoccupied. That only makes sense if no one will take the site. Also bear in mind that Supervalu is on hook for the lease for the next few years. That reduces the incentive of the property owner to rush to redevelop too.

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Leslie Moore 04/10/2018 at 3:22 PM

I am personally excited about the grocery store, and while I am aware that it is not a solution for all the issues in the neighborhood, I feel that it will provide great opportunities for us to spend money within our community. I think Norm Gold’s commitment to making this a grocery store for the whole neighborhood provides the right framework for making this a success – and I am willing to set aside some personal brand preferences to shop locally with my neighbors – after having lunch at the Front Porch Cafe!

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Ella Bandy 04/10/2018 at 6:57 PM

My suggestion would be to walk down to the Family Dollar at lunch time and in the evening and watch what folks buy. Just came back from there and people were buying a variety of groceries, cleaning supplies, diapers, pots and pans, clothes, underwear, flip flops, etc. The best way to see what walk-up customers want is to see what they’re buying.

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BAF 04/11/2018 at 9:47 AM

@26

That assumes that the shoppers at Family Dollar reflect the neighborhood as a whole. I suspect there are plenty of people who have never stepped foot in there. The new store needs to take into account what the Family Dollar shopper wants, but it can’t survive catering solely to that shopper.

This is going to be a challenging balancing act. The store is going to have to provide quality goods that are affordable to struggling families while also having higher-end products for those living in more gentrified areas of the neighborhood. Without both demographics supporting the store, this isn’t going to work.

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Minnie 04/11/2018 at 11:04 AM

I agree with BAF. If there is a dollar general already, there’s no point in duplication. I personally would not shop there if we’re going to have another iteration of subpar selection and no fresh produce.

We need a grocery store, not an expanded convenience store like family dollar, etc.

Please make it safe, well lit, and have a swift response to loitering issues.

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Dave Seibert 04/11/2018 at 2:43 PM

I’m into very well priced non perishable items and fresh produce and meats. If there was also a salad bar and hot bar I would definitely get down on that too!

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What’s in a name? - Church Hill People's News | Richmond, Virginia 04/18/2018 at 6:00 AM

[…] East End Grocery: Oasis in a Desert […]

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Alex Burlingame 08/30/2018 at 7:51 AM

A large produce selection with well-stocked and -priced items is the most important factor for me and my wife.

Price parity with the other grocery stores would be a plus.

We don’t need the store to sell random, “convenience” items that you would find at Dollar General.

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Mikayla Henson 08/30/2018 at 8:22 AM

I Live right next door to the up and coming grocery store with my boyfriend, best friend and dog and I know we are very excited to walk across the street to the store once it is up! We are looking forward to hopefully fresh and possibly locally sourced produce. A place we feel that will benefit our health just by walking in. I’m a huge health food fanatic and would love to see a store looking to feed fruits and veggies into the community.

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