Failing To Attract Major Supermarkets, Franklinton Debuts Nonprofit Grocery

May 15, 2018

One afternoon, Johnetta Thomas is visiting Lower Lights Christian Health Center for check-up. She lives five houses down from the nonprofit in Columbus’ Franklinton neighborhood - but lives quite a bit further away from other necessities. 

“I just had to go last night to get avocados from Kroger to make some guacamole,” Thomas says. “They don’t offer that nowhere around here that’s in the vicinity where you can walk."

That Kroger is across the Scioto River in the Brewery District - two and a half miles away. Thomas has to walk or find a ride to the grocery store because she doesn’t have a car. There’s an Aldi store on Mound Street, but it’s still more than a mile away.

Like the rest of Franklinton, Thomas looks forward to being able to buy fresh food close to home once Jubilee Market and Café opens on Wednesday, May 16.

“Because it’s healthy and I have to watch my sugar and my cholesterol," Thomas says. "Being able to walk to get fresh produce or fresh fruit would be better than having to find a way to get to the grocery store."

Jubilee Market and Café, located at 1160 W. Broad St., is considered to be the city’s first nonprofit grocery store. Lower Lights Christian Health Center set to work on it last year, after years of fruitless attempts to attract a corporate grocery store to Franklinton.

How Do Nonprofit Groceries Work?

Lower-income neighborhoods like Franklinton often struggle to acquire and keep grocery stores. Another Columbus neighborhood, Linden, lost its Kroger this January.

Johnetta Thomas, a Franklinton resident, has to travel over two miles to get to the closest grocery store. But she'll be right down the street from Jubilee Market.
Credit Adora Namigadde / WOSU

Corporations may hesitate to make the investment without guarantee of profit, but that means residents lose access to fresh, healthy food. And that's in addition to other obstacles faced by businesses in lower-income areas: Jubilee Market and Café was supposed to open last fall, but was delayed due to troubles finding suppliers for certain pieces of construction, like installing a commercial elevator.

The project ultimately cost $1.7 million to open, paid for with a combination of loans, $800,000 from a fundraiser and $300,000 from the West Side Community Fund.

As opening day approaches, grocery store manager Susan Hough busies herself organizing strewn assortments of cheese and stacking cans of green beans.

“We have frozen food cases, we’ll have produce coming soon here along this back wall,” Hough says. “Then we have flex refrigeration, we have dairy products, milk, eggs, cheese, cottage cheese, sour cream.”

That’s a fairly typical grocery list, but the store’s business model is something different. Depending on where their income falls, Hough says some customers can buy their groceries at a discount. But in order to stay afloat, the store needs about 60 percent of customers to pay full price.

“How we’re addressing that is for them to show us their identification, and we don’t have to speak out loud their names or anything,” Hough says. “The cashiers will be trained to enter their name into the software system and everything is loaded so the customer’s name comes up and it gives the cashier a prompt as to whether they would receive a 15 or 20 percent discount and the cashier applies that discount.”

For a family of four, the Federal Poverty Level is currently set at $25,100. Customers who live under 100 percent of that income will receive a 20 percent discount, whereas customers living between 100-200 percent (or $50,200 for a family of four) will receive a 15 percent discount.

Hough says while stocking the store, she kept in mind the expectation that many customers will be walking rather than driving.

“Some of our things are in smaller packaging, smaller portions, things like that,” Hough says. “Part of the obstacle people have is just being able, if they walk to the store, being able to get what they need and go home.”

Healthy Eating Encouraged, Not Required

The work of the nonprofit grocery will go beyond retail, too. Hough conceived of a workforce development program to teach people the ins-and-outs of the grocery business. She wants to hire around 10 Franklinton residents to participate in the beginning and eventually expand that number to 20.

The store also focuses on sourcing from local companies.

Through a partnership between the grocery store and The Ohio State University's dietetics program, Hough hopes to educate customers on health and eating well. 

“There are interns there who will be here on site, donating their time and working with us and our clients, our customers to help educate them,” Hough says.

Green, yellow and red labeling will help customers know whether what they’re purchasing is considered healthy, in-between or unhealthy. On top of fresh produce, Hough says they’ll also offer convenience store staples like gum, chips and chocolate bars - even healthy eaters don’t eat healthy all the time.

“They may want a snack. They may want something that’s a little different,” Hough says. "They may want some Combos or whatever it may be. We wanna be able to have those things here, too.”

She wants everyone to feel welcome in the store, regardless of their diet preferences. Not to mention, it's a smarter business choice as well.

“If I don’t have those things, then I can’t bring people in. Because people may avoid what we’re doing here just on the pretext of, ‘Well, all they have there is healthy food,’” Hough says. “And then we don’t have the opportunity to be able to show them what it is we have and possibly educate them about what may be better for them.”

A Community Hub

Attached to the grocery store portion of Jubilee Market is a sit-down café. Ann Schiele, chief strategy officer of Lower Lights, says she hopes it becomes a neighborhood hub.

“We’d love people, just like a Panera, to come in and spend a couple of hours to get coffee,” Schiele says.

Milo’s Catering and Graze Café is leasing space in Lower Lights’ building. They'll make hot and cold prepared foods in a commercial catering kitchen on the grounds.

“Maybe we have local artists or people who share poetry or music or things, they could come here and just set up and perform and do their thing. Then other people could come here and enjoy,” Hough says. “We just want a place where people are welcome and comfortable.”

Among those ready for the store's opening is Dana McCain, who has lived in Franklinton for six years and visits Lower Lights for health care.

“We’ve been hoping for a long time there would be a store in the neighborhood that would offer fresh produce, vegetables and fruit,” McCain says. “We have to go pretty far to get that, so we’re looking forward to having a place that’s actually just like a block and a half from our house where we can get fresh fruit and vegetables.”

Grocery store manager Susan Hough hopes hundreds of people will eventually get their groceries at Jubilee Market and Café every week.

The store opens to the public on Wednesday, May 16 at noon. It's located at 1160 W. Broad St. in Columbus, and hours will be 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, and noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.