The leaders of an effort to get a grocery store on the South Side were short on answers but long on optimism in a public meeting Thursday night, Nov. 19, at the Southwest Community Center.
Walt Dixie, executive director of Jubilee Homes of Syracuse, Inc. and leader of the Neighborhood Supermarket Initiative, stressed that the meeting was only preliminary, but painted a picture of an independent store that would transform the community.
“[I hope] this grocery store becomes the catalyst for revitalization,” Dixie said. “We don’t have all the answers right now, but we have the faith that we can make it happen.”
The South Side currently has no full-fledged grocery store. The P&C store in the Valley closed in February.
Audience members asked about potential benefits in a number of areas, including jobs, the economy, health and the environment. Dixie responded enthusiastically on all counts.
“Our goal is to keep most of the dollars in the community,” he said.
In speeches and in a pamphlet handed out at the meeting, the Neighborhood Supermarket Initiative promised jobs for South Side residents, both in construction and in the store itself; healthy, locally grown food, and green technology in the building.
Jubilee Homes, a nonprofit housing agency, purchased a building on the 600 block of South Avenue, near the intersection with Tallman Street, in August.
The building, which cost $350,000, is 60 years old and was originally designed as a grocery store, said Kenel Antoine, an architect on the project’s design committee. It currently is home to Holt Painting Company.
As a part of the Neighborhood Supermarket Initiative, Jubilee Homes plans to create a separate corporation to run the store, which Dixie said would be “affordable,” not high-end, and would close at “a reasonable hour.”
Referring to corner stores in the neighborhood, Dixie said, “If they’re going to survive, they’re going to have to change some of their behaviors.”
“We’re not going to sell blunts and 40s,” he added.
Dixie and other speakers repeatedly stressed the need for community involvement. He asked audience members to join the “Jubilee Shopping Club” as a pledge of support for the new store.
The money to buy the building was part of a $3 million mitigation settlement from the construction of the Midland Avenue Sewage Treatment Plant. The community group that administers that money, the Midland-Lincoln-Bellevue Project, is a part of the Neighborhood Supermarket Initiative.
“Every decision we make … the [MLB] committee being proactive is going to help drive this,” Dixie said.
The group is currently putting together a business plan, which it hopes to have ready by Jan. 15. There will be another public meeting next month, Dixie said.
Raylene Clark, the group’s lead business consultant, said it was working on a schematic layout of the store as well as deciding on which supplemental services to offer. As possibilities, she mentioned a bank or credit union, a pharmacy or a dry cleaner.
Antoine, the architect, said he was working with Dixie on green technology. He named photovoltaic solar panels, insulation, permeable concrete in the parking lot and rain gardens as potential ways to utilize green technology.
He added, though, that he first needs someone to draw up a plan of the existing building.
Dave Michel of the Syracuse office of economic development assured the crowd that “the city will continue to cooperate to bring this vision into a reality.” Gov. David Paterson, Congressman Dan Maffei, State Senator David Valesky and State Assemblywoman Joan Christensen were among the local politicians represented at the meeting.
Perhaps with that in mind, Dixie said, “We need to leverage elected officials to do the moral thing.”
“This is about living in this neighborhood and creating opportunities,” he said. “We can’t do this alone.”
– Story by Justin Daniel Murphy, a Syracuse University graduate student in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications