For almost two decades, the Clintonville Community Market sold groceries that were hard to find elsewhere. But now the market is closing; driven out of business by a changing retail climate.
Cashier Ammanuel Tekeste has worked at the Clintonville Community Market for 7 years. The market, he says, thrived by offering healthy alternative foods.
“It was built by the people for the people. You know, people wanted to take their destiny in their own hand,” Tekeste says.
But he says there’s more to it than that.
“They come here to consult; to just share their day; just to pick up a drink and say hello, and so that’s where the sadness is with this closing down for people who go home or go to work it was their little pit stop here,” Tekeste says.
The Clintonville Community Market was founded in 1996 as a co-op. For 17 years it served members and non-members alike at the corner of Crestview and Calumet. Chuck Lynd was one of the founders.
“I think the original idea was that we could be in a niche in a neighborhood kind of like a convenience store only for health food. The neighborhood was very supportive. We quickly moved up to about a thousand members. But we’ve always had about half of our business from the neighborhood just people who weren’t members of the food co-op. They just enjoy the convenience of shopping there in the neighborhood,” Lynd says.
As part of the co-op system, people bought yearly memberships and received discounted prices in return. The 3,000-square-foot store pulled in $2.5 million a year in business. People were buying locally produced eggs, honey and soap.
“We had a large amount of local produce. We had a huge selection of herbs and spices. The bulk section was always popular – everything from granola mixes to oats and grains for people who were doing their own cooking,” Lynd says.
But in recent years, chain retailers have added organic foods and locally grown and manufactured products to their shelves. Lynd says the co-op found it harder and harder to compete.
“In a Kroger’s or a Giant Eagle you’re going to see the natural food section. That made it harder for us to compete. It’s obviously harder for a small neighborhood grocery to succeed when you can’t buy the volume,” Lynd says.
The opening of Lucky’s Market two years ago was the straw that broke the camel’s back Lynd says. At a raucous meeting last month co-op members decided to shut the Clintonville Community Market down.
Across town, though, another co-op thrives. The Bexley Natural Market has been in business for nearly 40 years. Assistant manager Kevin Murphy says customers come discuss food choices with their knowledgeable staff.
“If you’re going to start eating healthy, but some of the ingredients aren’t really healthy, you’re going to want to know that sort of thing, and the bigger stores and the hybrid stores just aren’t going to concentrate, either in letting you know that there’s a difference, and that’s what we try and specialize in here,” Murphy says.
Murphy says co-ops also cater to clientele who care about the people who manufacture the store’s items.
“Is it fair trade? Is it a small producer? How does that producer treat their employees? How do they source their ingredients? There’s a lot of details other than how much did the product cost,” Murphy says.
Back at the Clintonville Community Market paper covers the market’s large front window. Inside, devoted customers have written farewells and best wishes. Ammanuel Tekeste reads a favorite.
“Yeah, there’s this one here that says, ‘I love you forever co-op, you are and always were the anchor of this community. I thank you for all the spices, meats and everything. You will truly be missed. Kisses and hugs.”
Members will gather November 1 to celebrate the market’s 17 years in business.