With Clifton Market set to open, other efforts to increase access to healthy foods also move forward

New grocery co-operative Clifton Market is slated to open in December, hoping fill the void by providing expanded offerings with an increased sense of community.

click to enlarge After half a decade, the Gaslight District will soon get its grocery store back. - PHOTO: HAILEY BOLLINGER
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
After half a decade, the Gaslight District will soon get its grocery store back.

You only have to peek in the window of the old Keller’s IGA space on Ludlow Avenue in Clifton to see that things are happening. With a massive remodel nearing completion, dozens of shelves and coolers await delivery of what is likely to be a decidedly Cliftonian collection of goods.

It’s been half a decade since Keller’s closed its doors and a community anchor was lost in the Gaslight District. But the new grocery co-operative Clifton Market is slated to open in December, hoping fill the void by providing expanded offerings with an increased sense of community.

“I think they’ll be really pleasantly surprised,” says Clifton Market organizer Marilyn Hyland, who says patrons can expect a completely modern grocery with a cafe, organic and locally sourced produce, an upscale meats and cheese section, and craft beer and wine offerings. “A lot of the feel of it will be the friendliness, which Keller’s had big time. But it will be totally refreshed.”

Besides staple and specialty items, Clifton Market will host events for kids, live music and more, including opportunities for singles to meet and cooking classes. The space is altogether new — the store was completely gutted — but familiar as well in that it will truly be a grocery of the Clifton community, Hyland says.

The co-op came together thanks to members of the community purchasing more than 1,200 shares. While it’s not a profitable financial investment — there are no dividends — many view it as a personal investment in the Clifton neighborhood, as well as a way to get their grocery store back.

Shareholders help to guide the direction of the project through voting at meetings and will see a percentage back on their purchases. But the investment’s greatest yield is that shareholders participate in keeping the neighborhood vital, Hyland says.

“It’s big enough to be an upscale grocery store and small enough for people to feel comfortable to shop in,” Hyland says. “Incorporating as a co-op was done to find a way for people to share their money toward a common goal, which was to put the groceries back in the grocery store.”

Clifton Natural Foods has been the next best thing to a large grocery on Ludlow and has served the needs of the Gaslight community for nearly three years after moving from its old location in University Heights. While there is overlap in its and Clifton Market’s clientele, Clifton Natural Foods co-owner Bob Craig says he believes the opening of Clifton Market will benefit his business.

“When Whole Foods in Hyde Park, which is 4.5 miles away, first came on, when it was Wild Oats, we lost about 12 percent of our business,” Craig says. “Then that (business) came back. It’s hard to say about the effect (of Clifton Market’s opening). … I think there’s enough of a customer base that we’ve established that we’ll do just fine. And, hopefully, as they say, a high tide raises all the boats.”

The success or failure of Clifton Market will be watched closely by the teams behind other local neighborhood market projects. The Apple Street Northside Market project is working toward a similar grocery in the old Northside Sav-A-Lot space. And a new Avondale neighborhood grocer, as part of the Avondale Town Center project, is planning a 2018 opening. There have been conversations about a neighborhood grocery store in Madisonville as well.

An important component to Clifton Market’s potential impact is that it is opening in what could technically be considered a food desert that happens to be in a hip, upscale district.

Most food deserts — defined by the American Nutrition Association as an area where many residents live one mile or further from a supermarket or large grocery store — are in low income areas. To make matters worse, the prices of the limited, processed food options available in food deserts are often jacked up to the further detriment of the low-income.

Those with the resources — like many in Clifton — can drive elsewhere for access and bargains, while low-income residents are left to the convenience stores and pony kegs.

Findlay Market, which has long offered fresh, healthy produce and meats to Over-the-Rhine, is working to counter some of the problems faced by low-income residents through a farmstand outreach into Cincinnati’s urban neighborhoods.

Findlay Market local food program manager Tristan Crigger says Findlay’s Farmstead Program has just completed its fourth season. It runs from spring to fall, offering fresh produce and a handfull of non-perishable, homemade cottage goods at tented kiosks open weekly in Price Hill (3-6 p.m. Tuesdays), Evanston (3-6 p.m. Thursdays) and Walnut Hills (4-7 p.m. Thursdays).“The program was originally focused on providing fresh, healthy and locally sourced goods to individuals who may not have access to it — food deserts,” he says. “We’ll go to each location for three or four hours, usually in the late afternoon, early evening, to try and give people who work a standard 9-to-5 job the opportunity to get there.”

Crigger says it’s an attempt to provide some food normalcy. And like regular grocery stores, there is a rewards program, though Findlay Market has flipped the idea, usually geared to hike profits and target sales. The Produce Perks program is for persons who are using SNAP benefits — the Ohio food assistance card previously known as food stamps.

“Whenever they choose to use their SNAP benefits to purchase anything, we will match the first 10 dollars of that,” Crigger says. “Those Produce Perks coins can be used on any produce or fruit.”

Crigger says they welcome anyone to the stands and that even though the program was started as a charitable outreach, shoppers do not have to be low-income — all patronage helps.

“We don’t have a huge audience,” he says. “That’s something we really have to dig into — to figure out what it is we can do to draw the larger audience.”

“The farm stands are more of a mission-based program,” he adds. “They are never going to make a profit and are paid for primarily through grants, with the difference made up for by private donations. It’s really to encourage people to eat healthier, eat local and provide them with the access they need to do that.” ©

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