On the heels of an historic election in Virginia, it finally feels like the right time to have a hard conversation.
The Blue Wave that swept Virginia’s House of Delegates and State Senate did so mainly riding the back of a progressive agenda. One that highlights the importance of a fair wage, equal access to health care, and pushing back against barriers of inequity that have haunted the Commonwealth for too long.
This agenda is nothing new to the People of The Hill. When I committed to moving my family back into the city of Richmond from the homogeneity of the suburbs, no neighborhood embodied the ideals of diversity, inclusion, community, history and innovation better than Church Hill.
I was blessed to be introduced to the work of The Robinson Theater, CHAT, Peter Paul and Blue Sky, all committed to bettering the lives and experiences of ALL the children of Church Hill. Before we moved I sat around bars, and coffee tables and front porches of friends that already lived in the area. I heard the conversations in community groups and newsletters, everyone focused on how to make this neighborhood, the shining beacon on the hill.
How Church Hill could be the place that would show Richmond how the past and future could meet, and blend, not break.
I am proud to call Church Hill home, proud of the work happening to engage and enhance the East End. But, there is a much needed conversation we have all been shying away from. An opportunity to show Richmond, and the country at large, that what we do here works. That a community that values everyone’s contributions, then pools those resources and rises to meet the needs of our most vulnerable citizens, is not only possible, but profitable.
Let’s talk about The Market @ 25th.
The Market opened in March of this year to much fanfare. Hailed as a new opportunity for economic activism, and a much needed oasis in the food desert of the East End, I saw you all there the first few weeks. Taking pictures of the history wall, posting to your Instagram or Facebook from the Shalom Produce aisle, or Brewer’s Coffee cafe. We were all excited to be a part of something that was more than just a grocery store.
But as the shine dimmed, and the reality of old habits set in, we have begun to revert to our old ways. Crossing over into Henrico to shop at Kroger or Walmart; Traveling to the West End or Carytown after work to visit Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods; convenience finds its way back into our daily lives and we are failing to hold up our end of the bargain.
Richmond Free Press ran a piece recently waging bets against The Market.
It spoke of layoffs and profit margins, and misquoting the store’s operator, began signaling the failure of the experiment here in the East End. The Richmond Times Dispatch recently reported that the store is “losing millions”.
Let’s start with putting to bed the biggest of the misconceptions:
“The store is not going to close. The investor, Steve Markel, is completely dedicated to the sustainability of our store and to the community.”
Norm Gold, Developer and Operator of The Market @ 25th
Norm and I spoke candidly about the situation at the market, and even with his promise that the store isn’t going anywhere, they still need our help.
“I will say, that for the store to flourish and continue to be a vital part of the community, it needs more support from the community.”
What does that support look like? It is time to put your money where your mouth is.
Richmonders overwhelmingly elected a democratic House of Legislators that promises a raise in minimum wage. The Market doesn’t need a law passed to make them pay people a living wage. According to Norm, “We start all staff, other than baggers, at $12 an hour. Salaries go up from there, depending on experience. We are very competitive with all other grocery retailers, and higher than many. Our goal was to offer a living wage to our team members to help them become self-sufficient, and we have been very successful here. Most of our team have now been able to stabilize their families and in many cases, procure homes, cars, and other essentials.”
Let’s compare that to other options around the area that may be getting your monthly grocery budget.
Per Indeed, Average Kroger Stores hourly pay ranges from approximately $8.52 per hour for Cashier/Bagger. While we might enjoy the convenience of ordering shelf stable items straight to our door, Amazon disclosed that the median pay for its employees was just $28,446 in 2017. That number has risen some since their announcement of a $15 an hour rate for all employees, bumping the median salary up to $35,000 a year, but, that still doesn’t translate to much of a work life balance for many of their workers. One spoke to the New York Times in 2018 and reported having to pee in bottles on shift to avoid losing productivity time on a bathroom break. Whole Foods, now an Amazon company, doesn’t fare much better with an average starting salary of $10 per hour, again per Indeed.
While we are talking about Whole Foods, it should be important to note that CNBC reports, as of January 2020 almost two thousand workers will lose their health care.
Virginians statewide rallied for an expansion of Medicaid, the votes prove that. I’ve driven the neighborhood and seen Warren and Bernie signs going up, both candidates who are pushing for Medicare for all. Yet we are still supporting corporations that forgo their employees’ health for the bottom line.
Walmart has made several big announcements regarding their new health care programs for workers over the last few months. Sadly, those changes will not affect over half of their workforce that is part time. A study from UC Berkeley shows that $153 Billion a year is spent to subsidize minimum wage employees at places like Walmart through SNAP and Medicaid benefits.
The Market offers all employees access to Health Care.
Norm stated, “All full timers are offered health insurance (medical, dental, vision, short term and long term disability, and life insurance). Part timers are also given the opportunity to sign up for health insurance.”
Norm adds, they are also looking to their employees future. “All workers are offered 401k and there is a company match.”
The investment isn’t solely monetary.
At CHPN we have covered the unique opportunities that The Market is offering employees. Norm spoke a bit about how things began with their team.
“From the beginning, our goal has been to hire local. To affording them opportunities that other employers do not, including those with criminal backgrounds. Partnering with Caritas, we provided them life skills/ professional development training before they started in the store. Each team member was paid for this training. We wanted to give them all the skills needed to become successful and self-sufficient whether it is at our store, or beyond if they decide to move to another career. Typical grocery retailers, and most other employers, don’t invest as much in their employees. We are committed to helping them improve their lives. This dedication has created a very strong team atmosphere. The best culture, best customer service of any grocer in Richmond. (And, yes, I am confident in that statement and have been told so by many experts)”
Church Hill is a progressive community. We value workers’ rights, a fair wage, health care; and we are failing to support a store right here that is living those values.
It is time for us to step up.
I asked Norm what needs to change for The Market to be successful:
” A store’s success is predicated by volume and most importantly, customer count. Our customer count is low and has not increased. The community has clamored for a grocery store in this area for decades. Now that it is here, they really need to turn out, change their shopping habits and shop in our store. They need to understand that this means understanding that we are not a WalMart and cannot compete with their prices. But can be, and are very comparable.”
“The convenience of our store, the services we offer, the dedication to staff, vendors, and community should be, must be enough to gain the support of all those in our community. No matter diversity, income, or age. We need that support to continue the level of services we currently offer. The Market doesn’t want to become just another grocery store. We want to continue to be a true community, local, mission based and driven market, and our success will be vital to the East End.”
Norm and the Market are open to suggestions. Found something cheaper somewhere else? Tell them. Are they not carrying your favorite brand of cereal? There are forms to fill out to request items to be stocked.
The Market has recently launched their Members Rewards program and also are offering discounts to seniors, military, students/teachers and more.
They are doing their part to try to make this store work for our community. Are you doing yours?
People of the Hill, Where are you spending your money? And more importantly, who are you supporting with those dollars?
Note from the Editors: This is a part of a series of articles about The Market at 25th and how our involvement with it affects the store and the community. What’s the other side of the coin? Is this more than returning to old habits? Could the reason you’re not shopping there be that the store trying to be too many things to too many people? Is there an environmental factor? Where is the delivery option for those who use Instacart? Is there a perception problem like this article from Bacon’s Rebellion alludes to?
Let’s start having the hard conversations. Comment your thoughts.
How can The Market at 25th follow up with the community to figure out what works and what doesn’t?