2020 Outstanding Independents, Food Security: Baldwin Market and Local Market
What does a town of 1,600 residents do when its last remaining grocery store shuts down? In Baldwin, Fla., what the town does is open its own grocery store.
“Well, the store came out of pure necessity,” says Sean Lynch, mayor of Baldwin, located about 20 miles west of Jacksonville. “Our senior citizens had to drive 20 or 30 miles round-trip for fresh produce and meats. And some single parents and one-car families had to wait for rides to go shopping outside town. It’s what our small community needs. I am trying to do the right thing and help the town’s citizens.”
In 2017, the only operating grocery store in Baldwin, an IGA, closed down. The closure essentially turned the area into a “food desert,” making quick trips to buy groceries or supplies difficult. About 13.5 million people live in food deserts across the United States, according to the USDA.
2020 OUTSTANDING INDEPENDENTS
So, in July of last year, Lynch and the Town Council decided to become grocers — possibly the only local government in the country to do so — by opening Baldwin Market.
According to The Washington Post, all of the employees of Baldwin Market are on the municipal payroll, from the butcher to the cashiers. Workers from the town’s maintenance department take breaks from cutting grass to help unload deliveries, and residents flag down the mayor when they want to request a specific type of milk.
“We’re not trying to make a profit,” Lynch told the Post in a recent interview. “We’re trying to cover our expenses and keep the store running. Any money that’s made after that will go into the town in some way.”
Of course, it’s not just small towns that have so-called food deserts. In Chicago’s South Shore area, Dominick’s, the neighborhood’s only grocery store for years, shut down in 2013. That left a big part of the neighborhood — about 14,000 residents — without access to a grocery store for more than six years.
This past December, however, the owners of independent supermarket chain Shop & Save opened a new concept in the South Shore area called Local Market. On its Facebook page, Local Market highlights its organic products and its focus on natural foods.
“Our milk and dairy products, including nurtured eggs, provide the truly unique taste and wholesome benefit only available in foods produced the way they were intended: naturally,” the retailer notes on the social media site. “From soy-based selections to meat and poultry products produced from livestock patiently fed and bred in holistic, totally natural environments, you’ll find the healthiest variety in organic selections available at Local Market. Watch for our weekly promotions in the organic foods section and take advantage of the savings available to treat yourself to the natural alternative of healthy eating.”
Eva Jakubowski, a co-owner of the store, told the Chicago Tribune, “Residents will find a full-service grocery experience, complete with a juice bar, a wine and beer bar, and a large seating area with a Starbucks feel.”
South Shore has a median income of just less than $25,000, according to a recent report from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, but also has many middle- and high-income residents.
“We have customers that truly want us here, that are willing to support our business,” Jakubowski told the Tribune. “It’s a wonderful relationship where we come in with something the community wants.”