Its been quite the journey for Detroit native Raphael Wright who has been on an active campaign to provide the wellness and economic engine he believe his community deserves.
He believed the opportunity to do so would be to empower his community with the necessity of food, while giving residents the options to shop where they live. He would also stand has someone who truly believes in Detroiters not just being the consumer of the community, but yet being Black owners and providers for the community.
It would become his inaugural social enterprise, a community partnered grocery store located in the Jefferson-Chalmers community. Wright says it’s designed to create equity, jobs, and entrepreneurship opportunities while also creating healthier food options for what he and others have deemed a food desert.
“I started the journey of opening up a grocery store in Detroit because I wanted to rebuild the neighborhood I came from,” he said. “You have to start with controlling, distributing, and growing the food that’s in the community and the people who are a part of that have to be from the community as well.”
It’s just the beginning of what redevelopment looks like for Raphael who leads the east side Neighborhood Grocery at the corner of Manistique and Essex Dr.
It’s part of why Wright started Neighborhood Grocery, as he believes it can be the catalyst to attracting other businesses, schools and other institutions.
The idea first spawned in 2016, followed with a 2016 Motor City Match Plan Award and the launch of a GoFundMe campaign in 2017.
Wright became a FoodLab Detroit Member, participated in TechTown Detroit’s Retail Bootcamp, while secured consultancy with Michigan Good Food Fund.
In October 2017, he was awarded a Motor City Match Space and over the years would become involved in a number of food accelerators and bootcamps leading up to the lease to take over a 5,000 sq. ft space where he his vision is currently open and occupied after an extensive amount of renovations.
“The purpose of opening up a grocery store is life itself,” Wright says. “If you don’t have healthy food or access to healthy food where you live, you on borrowed time. Grocery stores are important because they anchor a community and, in this case, people in my neighborhood don’t have to travel far to get it.”
“This is not a health store, but we prioritize health. We make sure that we put the healthy items in your face in a proportions that won’t allow you to waste money, we want to make sure that you’re saving money”
In 2020, Wright secured 1/2 acre of vacant land to start a market garden to self-distribute some products to stores & customers as well as securing funding from the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation.
It was a slow yet growing and learning process for Wright. Little by little, obtaining the knowledge and funding to secure his vision to open a quality business for and by his community.
And while the pandemic was a moment is time in which shutdown a lot of business opportunities, the moment and era in time help pick up the pace of his business endeavors.
“The neighborhoods could have needed this project much sooner, the support wasn’t always there to get it done quickly but, once the pandemic started everything sped up, because everyone needed it and people could visually see the need at this point.”
Wright is looking forward to gaining additional space while opening up even more stores while also exploring the idea of food distribution. Surely, an example of dedication as his pursuit for economic food justice has lead to the opening of Neighborhood Grocery and already making an impact on the community.
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