Lifelong Monroe resident Sonia Hudson has fond memories of her childhood in the Orchard East neighborhood.
She’d often ride her bike to a local shop to grab ice cream or a treat. Decades later, the 33-year-old mother is excited her kids will have that opportunity with the opening of several new businesses in the neighborhood.
“It’s crazy to think my kids will be able to have that (experience) now,” said Hudson.
She is the manager of Village Market, 1104 E. Fourth St., which opened to customers over the weekend. The market also is home to Oaks Creamery, an ice cream shop, and also will house East Side Beauty Supply.
Creating a new market in the neighborhood was achieved through the efforts of Pastor Heather Boone, who said the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic highlighted a desperate need for access to healthy food in the area.
Her church, Oaks of Righteousness, partnered with ProMedica and Meijer Inc. to make that possible.
“We know one of the largest needs in the community is access to healthy and affordable food,” Boone said. “We know this area (was) a food desert.”
The market will be stocked items provided by Meijer, which acts as its wholesaler, and will be priced with the community’s needs in mind, Boone said.
“They’re treating us like a little Meijer store,” she added.
Boone and Oaks of Righteousness have led an expansive effort to address needs within the Orchard East neighborhood over the last several years.
In addition to managing a homeless shelter and religious ministry, Oaks also operates a clothing closet, food pantry, childcare center and a free health clinic.
Boone said it was Sacred Oaks Health Center’s work that highlighted the need for a new grocery store.
Physicians from ProMedica Monroe’s Family Medicine Residency Program work with those who visit the clinic for services. Boone said that many of those doctors have linked patients’ health issues to poor nutrition, including diabetes, obesity and other ailments.
Boone also said the COVID-19 pandemic, which hindered mass transportation and left many confined to their homes, exacerbated the problems brought on by poor eating.
“We were realizing people didn’t have access to healthy food,” Boone said.
According to Feeding America, a nation-wide network of food banks that seek to battle hunger, Monroe County has a food insecurity rate of about 11.2%.
Boone and Oaks reached out to ProMedica in an effort to address that need. Working with Anthony Goodwin, director of resourceful and market solutions, the basis for a partnership with Meijer was formed. The dedication and work from all parties has been inspiring, Boone said.
“When God gave me the vision to open a grocery story, I had no idea how to do that,” Boone said. “But God gave me the good sense to surround myself with people who do know.”
With a team and an idea in place, Boone said they embarked on a swift campaign to get the market up and running.
The acquired the building on E. 4th, which had previously been the Pop Stop Party Store. The building had been vacant for five years and the previous owner had already been doing some work needed to repair the building.
Hudson said it took about two months to stage the market and make some of the remaining repairs. The result has been tremendous, she said, adding that longtime residents and many people who struggle financially don’t have to travel several miles to purchase fresh food.
“People are going to have access to affordable food,” Hudson said. “… This neighborhood has been overlooked on so many things. A lot of other stores are overpriced. The (Village Market) is a real grocery store where people can shop affordably.”
The market is also home to ice cream shop, which will be staffed by local teenagers, Boone said. Baked goods also will be sold there, which are being made by two young area businesswomen, she added.
In the future, the market also will be home to East Side Beauty Supply, a venture being headed by Kellie Vining, who represents the neighborhood on city council.
Boone said some of the unused space in the building will be used to host pop-up shops featuring local business people. The market also will have its parking lot repaved in the near future, Boone added.
“We feel as a congregation it is our duty to restore this area,” Boone said.
On the web:Oaks of Righteousness Facebook page