A new grocery store has opened in Northeast Greensboro that's eroding an 18 year food desert. A food desert is an an urban area where affordable or quality fresh food is difficult to find. The Renaissance Community Cooperative (RCC) is a little different - it's a “co-op,” which means it's built to serve the needs of community owners and is democratically controlled and run. People “buy-in” via a one-time fee, which gets you a discount and lets you run for board positions, but the store is open to the entire public. RCC founding board member Mo Kessler says ownership has benefits beyond a discount:
I think one of the most important benefits of being an owner is the concept of ownership. You get to take part in a really important business in your community that is not only generating opportunities to meet needs - we have a food desert that we're now actively solving by having food - but it also is a wealth generator for the larger community. So to take ownership in that, to take pride in that, is such a huge thing.
The store is in Northeast Greensboro, an area that has fought hard against undesirable development. Demographically it is a predominantly working class and African American community. Kessler says that residents have been well-organized for some time, even fighting against a landfill and detention center being built in a residential area.
Not only did they fight those battles and win, but they were able to overturn the city council, and see their political power and [the] power of organizing. And [we] started to look at how to create situations for ourselves, rather than just this cycle of advocating for ourselves and trying to organize against resistance. The community is a tight-knit community, and just starting to grasp the power that we have with each other and what we can do with it.
The neighborhood has reacted with "surprise, relief, and happy tears" since the RCC opened. Residents now have access to fresh foods that were previously unavailable to them.
It's been extraordinary and transformative and exciting, and we just couldn't be more proud of how beautiful it looks in this store. It's very colorful and bright and welcoming and warm.
RCC made the decision to pay their workers (30 have been hired) a competitive starting wage - $10.00 per hour - which is in line with what a Whole Foods employee makes, and higher than other grocery store chains. This means that some items might be priced a few cents more than, say, Wal-Mart. But according to Kessler, the benefits of those prices go a long way.
The impact is going to happen on multiple fronts. If you look at us two or three years out, we're going to pump over $1 million back into the community just through wages and benefits alone. That's gonna be huge. That literally is changing people's day-to-day life in a massively transformative way. Since we started this project, we identified [that] we needed two things in Northeast Greensboro - we needed access to food, and we needed access to dignified jobs. So creating a job where there wasn't one is such a huge, huge thing.
*all photos by Kevin Smith from Renaissance Community Cooperative Grand Opening