Joy and pride radiated Tuesday from the customers steadily shopping in Jefferson Chalmers at one of Detroit’s only Black-owned grocery store.
After six years of crowdfunding and planning, Neighborhood Grocery founder and owner Raphael Wright opened on Sunday.
“Being in a Black city like Detroit, and being the only show in town is mixed emotions,” Wright said. “I feel accomplished, I want more of us doing this type of work. I’m determined to help make that happen. It’s well overdue,” he said. “More of us need to be in this space.”
The grocery store is unique for the neighborhood that hasn’t seen a grocery store in several decades and vital for the approximately 20% of residents in the area that don’t have a car. But Neighborhood Grocery is also unique as one of the only Black-owned grocery store in the majority Black city. It’s also a reversal of a recent trend: In the last several years Detroit has lost 10 grocery stores and the city now has more dollar stores than grocery stores, which worsens access to healthy and affordable food.
A local resident of 50 years, Robert Hicks said he was impressed while shopping at the store at 500 Manistique on Tuesday morning.
“This is unique and I hope he succeeds,” said Hicks, adding that he couldn’t remember the last time the neighborhood had a grocery store.
“Back in the day, it used to be little grocery stores here and there in neighborhoods and it was always the homey feeling where it’s community,” added Nydria Gilchrist, another shopper at Neighborhood Grocery Tuesday.
The new store is already bringing that feeling back, she said.
Gilchrist said she was pleased with the options as a vegetarian and the mother of a child allergic to dairy. “I’m always shopping for fresh things so this is amazing to have this in the neighborhood,” she said.
Neighborhood Grocery’s stock is a mix of commercial mainstays like Faygo and Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix alongside local small producers like coffee from Konjo Me and meats from Eastern Market, as well as organic, all-natural feminine hygiene products.
Wright said he built the store’s inventory with feedback from the community, which he’s still accepting.
“We got a little bit of everything that you need,” he said. “It’s an inclusive project,” he said of the grocery store.”
Community members also have the option to buy equity in the store starting at $50 a share. In exchange, members get store discounts and will get a share of the profits.
Hicks said that he’s interested in buying stocks in the future.
“I’ve been here for 50 years so if I can help the guy out, I want to,” he said. “I’ll be back,” he said, “going to make it my regular.”
Activist Barbara Winder came from across town to show her support on Tuesday.
“I support everything Black. I’m on the side of all Black people,” she said. “The neighborhood needs stores like this. I hope everybody will come by and buy him out, every day. Don’t leave a thing on the shelf.”
When Wright held a soft opening on Sunday, customers did just that. He was busy Tuesday restocking after he said he got wiped out of a number of products, including 24 bottles of passion fruit juice from Detroit’s Baobab Fare, a Burundi restaurant in New Center.
Wright said that at first he thought he would feel accomplished to be a rare Black-owned grocery store in the city. But at this point, coming out of the pandemic when food insecurity is high, Wright said color shouldn’t matter.
“I just wanted to provide,” said Wright, who created and delivered free food boxes to hungry residents during the pandemic.
Another Black-owned grocery store, the Detroit People’s Food Co-op, is set to open in Detroit’s North End in February 2024. Another Black-owned convenience store that sells fresh produce, Linwood Fresh Market, opened in March, notes owner Sonya Greene, adding another grocery shop has since opened down the street.
Greene said she believes Detroit is finding its way back to a time when it has community grocery stores. But she said she’s not putting much emphasis on being a Black-owned shop.
“At the end of the day, we’re all human beings and all trying to feed our communities,” said Greene, acknowledging there is a need in the Black community for fresh and healthy food options.
“I’m an RN and in 28 years I have taken care of all types of individuals from all walks of life,” she said. “For me and the Linwood Fresh Market, it’s not so much a focus of it being Black-owned, I’m helping the community. Who is ever in the Linwood-Dexter community is more than welcome to come in to the store.”
To open his shop, Wright fundraised more than $177,000 on GoFundMe, and received a $85,000 grant from quasi-public organization Motor City Match in February 2023.
Wright said that in the beginning it was hard to get support from the city and said the city needs to be willing to invest in grocery stores even if they see them as risky investments.
“Sometimes this stuff may not work out, but people need to eat,” he said. “Looking at food as a business that has to make money, I think it’s a dated model. These types of projects, they deserve an investment.”
Neighborhood Grocery is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify that Neighborhood Grocery is one of the only Black-owned grocery stores in Detroit.