They’re gonna pave Good Grocer and put up an exit ramp

The nonprofit grocer has just a few months left at the corner of Lake and Stevens. After that... it's anyone's guess.

The nonprofit grocer has just a few months left at the corner of Lake and Stevens. After that... it's anyone's guess. Paul Nordquist

Located at 122 E. Lake Street, the Good Grocer store is in a neighborhood with three times as many low-income residents than the surrounding seven counties. It’s the neighborhood's only real access to affordable, fresh, healthy food.

That is, of course, until the bulldozers arrive.

In order to put in a new exit ramp from I-35W to East Lake Street, Good Grocer is scheduled to be demolished in March. According to MnDOT, the project will improve transit service, safety, and accessibility to East Lake Street and provide much-needed upgrades to infrastructure.

It will also create a food desert.

Good Grocer’s location is key. The Lake Street and Stevens Avenue bus stop on Route 27 -- a crucial transit line for the area -- is five steps from the door. When 46 percent of the community doesn’t have access to a car, according to an MnDOT Environmental Justice Analysis that was necessary for the construction project’s federal grant, that location matters. Three miles down the road might as well be 50 miles.

Good Grocer is a nonprofit, with all profits invested back into the business to keep prices low. And the store is mostly run by a team of more than 500 volunteers who put in one 2.5-hour shift every four weeks. That means minimal overhead, which means more profit, which in turn means more money invested back into lower prices. Those volunteers are eligible for an additional 25 percent discount on everything from dish soap to fresh cilantro to Ben & Jerry’s to Amy’s frozen organic meals.

Paul Nordquist

Paul Nordquist

“It’s a brilliant idea,” says one customer, scanning the freezer. He’s here every weekday because the bathroom is always clean, which isn’t the case at his nearby job. “It’s a very new way of doing grocery, and I’ve never seen it before.”

Gulirana Minhas agrees. One recent day, Minhas was shopping at Good Grocer for the first time after a friend told her she had to check it out. She wasn't disappointed. As she gazed around at the produce section full of Honeycrisp apples, mangos, organic kale, avocados, and more, she commented on how clean and organized the store is: “I love it. This is awesome!” She was planning on telling everyone she knows to come here.

Good Grocer has tried to provide a community benefit that can’t be quantified in dollars and cents. Founder Kurt Vickman wants to change the way we see people in need, to fight against the belief that they're helpless, and to start seeing them as gifted.

“The question becomes, how do you create an organization that actually harnesses the gifting, and the potential and the possibility in people, and actually starts to turn some of the internal dialogue -- even in them -- that they don’t have the gifts that it takes, or the ability that it takes to contribute?” Vickman explains.

Vickman starts by eliminating any distinction between the haves and the have-nots. Volunteering at Good Grocer says nothing about your income or social status: You could be a wealthy donor or a struggling single parent. Both are welcome to volunteer; both are seen as having something to contribute.

It’s clear that customers feel this sense of welcome. Domingos Ramos Da Silva says he shops here because of “the vibe of the place,” which is “positive and diverse.” Several customers mention the atmosphere, or the vibe, as a reason they choose to shop here.

There are, technically, other grocers nearby. In fact, that environmental justice analysis found seven. But of those, six are small, specialized markets for Asian, Mexican, or Greek food -- and one specializes in a variety of global foods. None are general grocery stores, meaning that if you need staples like peanut butter, milk, eggs, and bread, you might be out of luck.

And besides, none of them have that vibe -- the positive atmosphere that Good Grocer nurtures.

Will Cub be able to fill the void? Doubtful. Lunds & Byerlys definitely can’t. Aldi? Nope.

For the time being, negotiations are ongoing between Good Grocer and Hennepin County. They could settle with enough money for Good Grocer to build a new store on a vacant lot just four blocks away from its current location. Four blocks from the bus stop would be a burden to people who carry groceries, but it’s better than no store at all.

In matters of eminent domain, the little guy doesn’t usually win. A community in need is hoping Good Grocer is different.