NEW HANOVER COUNTY — The Northside community is closer to getting a long-awaited grocery store in what’s been considered a food desert for more than 35 years.
A collaborative effort between New Hanover County and the Northside Food Co-op has identified a parcel of land at 901 Fanning St. — in the northern portion of the 900 block of N. 10th — as an ideal location to develop a full-service store. It just needs the city’s approval.
READ MORE: How county is spending $3.6M on anti-violence efforts this year
The City of Wilmington owns the 7.74-acre parcel, and the county is requesting the donation of 2.35 acres for constructing the market.
“The city is working to survey, subdivide, and rezone part of the property for use as a grocery store, at which time council can consider the donation,” City of Wilmington spokesperson Jennifer Dandron told Port City Daily.
On the southern portion of the city-owned property is the arts nonprofit DREAMS of Wilmington.
On Apr. 1, county manager Chris Coudriet sent a formal request to city manager Tony Caudle for use of the land, “located within a USDA designated food desert,” the letter states.
According to the USDA, there are eight identified food deserts in Wilmington. These areas are defined as a low-income tract where a substantial number of residents live farther than 1 mile of a supermarket.
The grocery store “will help satisfy a critical need in the community by offering Northside residents a convenient and accessible location to access fresh, healthy food,” Coudriet continued.
Erecting the storefront is part of the county’s community building and investment plan approved by commissioners in January. Its purpose is to provide necessary resources and support for residents to thrive. It’s a four-year anti-violence action plan adopted for $39.5 million.
County leadership’s strategy is to address inequities that can lead to violence. The multi-pronged approach includes collaborating with nonprofits, such as the Northside Food Co-op, to help with educational, nutritional, health and social needs.
The county kickstarted the program with an initial $3.6 million and allocated $300,000 toward opening a 6,000-square-foot grocery store. An additional $2.1 million will be given toward the project in fiscal year 2023, according to previous Port City Daily reporting.
City council allotted $125,000 of American Rescue Plan Act money to the Northside Food Co-op in November to further its mission. The co-op was established in 2020 and comprises civic leaders and members from local nonprofits and businesses, as well as Northside residents.
“The objective is to create a better world by working together to shift the focus of the business to put people before profit, and generate a more inclusive and collaborative economy and community,” according to Northside Food Co-op’s website.
The co-op has been operating as a weekly farmers market in a recently renovated lot at 1019 Princess St. on Saturdays, as a means to provide fresh food to the community.
Port City United was created to manage aspects of the anti-violence plan. Its newly named director Cedric Harrison is one of the co-op’s founding members.
“People shouldn’t have to worry about how to get healthy food or where their next meal is coming from,” Harrison said.
He also sees opportunity for the store to become an economic hub. It will provide employment opportunities but also increase shelf space. Northside Co-op features local vendors’ one-of-a-kind goods, which Harrison hopes will continue to grow once it has a brick-and-mortar.
“Something like this gives people access to resources to empower them so they can evolve out of whatever their situation may be” Harrison continued.
According to Coudriet’s letter to the city, the county will construct the store and the Northside Food Co-op will operate it.
Northside community members haven’t had access to a nearby grocery store since the A&P closed more than 30 years ago. There have been attempts to construct one by various groups over the years, but none came to fruition. In 1996, an independent group had high hopes of starting a co-op after collecting money from locals; the City of Wilmington had intentions to build the store by 2015. Neither succeeded.
Addressing food deserts was among a list of spending items on the city’s $9-million plan for economic and community assistance, Port City Daily reported last fall.
If the city approves the land donation, the property must undergo a parcel subdivision, as well as a rezoning.
Loeper said the county is finalizing a request for qualifications to find a consultant to assist with the overall business plan of the project.
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