Construction will begin at 38th Street and Sheridan Avenue in June to build a new grocery store, Indy Fresh Market. The store will be operated by two local African American men, Michael McFarland and Marckus Williams, and is estimated to create roughly 20 jobs for the community and many more during the construction process.
The project is a collaboration between Cook Medical, Goodwill of Central and Southern Indiana, The Indianapolis Foundation and Martin University, among others. The store is set to open in May 2022.
For east side residents, it couldn’t come soon enough.
Mark Webster, president of Real Taste Catering in Indianapolis, has lived on the east side for years. He remembers, decades ago, when plenty of grocery stores were available to residents. All have since either shut down or moved business elsewhere. Now, he said residents rely on gas stations to get their groceries and pay “three times the price you would in a grocery store.” When Indy Fresh Market is built, it will be the only grocery store for miles in any direction.
“Cook Medical stepped up to help these young brothers win the game,” Webster said at a press conference May 6. “For too long, we’ve lost the game. It’s time to win.”
In Indianapolis, roughly 208,000 people — most of them Black — live in food deserts, meaning they live over a mile away from a grocery store. Many lack adequate transportation, making it more difficult to reach stores in other neighborhoods.
Beyond hunger, living in a food desert can detrimentally impact your life, starting from childhood. Hungry children are less likely to succeed in school, and food insecurity can shorten your lifespan.
And as residents of the city’s east side know all too well, when grocery stores leave the neighborhood, other entities follow.
“If a grocery store shuts down, you might not think of that as being traumatic,” Pete Yonkman, president of Cook Medical, said during the press conference. “But then restaurants start boarding their windows, schools are under-resourced, and banks and businesses leave … and you start wondering if you’re living in a community at all.”
Yonkman said there are plenty of studies on what defines a food desert, but very few efforts to solve the problem. Indy Fresh Market, he said, will not only help feed east side residents, but will create pathways for other community members to start businesses of their own and create generational wealth that will benefit the community for years to come.
For Martin University’s part, college President Sean Huddleston plans to get the community involved. The creation of a community garden will allow middle and high school students to grow fruits and vegetables to donate to the market. The university will also provide McFarland and Williams training on how to operate a grocery store. He hopes this will be first of many markets of its kind here in the city.
“It’s not enough to just beat the odds,” Huddleston said, “you have to change the odds. This is the first program of it’s kind, but it can’t be the last.”
Gov. Eric Holcomb called the 14,000-square-foot grocery store a “massive undertaking,” but one that will ultimately benefit Indianapolis. He thanked Cook Medical and other partners for “investing” in the success of Indianapolis residents.
“It’s neighbors that make [a neighborhood] work, and the stakeholders with a vested interest in the future of our neighbors,” Holcomb said. “If the last year taught us anything, it’s that we’re all in this together.”
Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.