CINCINNATI — Residents in Lower Price Hill could have lost the one, affordable grocery store they had for miles when the previous owner decided to retire. Instead, they took matters into their own hands and brought the grocery back to life, saving the neighborhood from becoming a food desert.
Efforts to revive the storefront that is now called Meiser’s Fresh Grocery and Deli on State Avenue go back to 2017. Then-owner Carl Meiser was ready to let go of the family business dating back to the 1960s, alarming residents who cherished Meiser’s as a neighborhood gathering space.
“For Meiser’s to close, the whole community felt that loss,” said Reba Hennessey, an associate for the store.
Hennessey said Meiser’s was an important location for residents to share community news and resources. It was also crucial because the nearest alternative for groceries, the Kroger in Price Hill on Warsaw Avenue, required some to resort to using buses and Ubers —a tedious, time-consuming additional expense. Residents felt the impact of Meiser's shutdown on multiple fronts.
“Kids are not meeting their developmental milestones, adults are starting to suffer from long-term health consequences as a result of not having the access to fresh, healthy foods,” Hennessey said. “People are losing money every day trying to get to the grocery store.”
A handful of neighbors formed a team to figure out how to reopen the grocery. With the help of entities like Community Matters and Price Hill Will, they opened a non-profit through which they relaunched the shop. They also received city funds to restore the space.
“It came to life," said associate Marisha Davis. "So that just gave me hope inside that if you fight for it in a positive manner, and you keep fighting, and keep fighting and waiting, it will eventually come.”
Davis was a key resident leader in the effort to reopen the grocery store, knowing associates want customers to feel welcome when walking into the store, and that they can find groceries they can afford. The store manages to keep costs for items low by merging business models for grocery stores, farmer’s markets and donated food.
“It’s proven over and over again, this idea of investing in the strengths of the people that already live here. The store is the latest example of that,” said Mary Delaney, executive director of Community Matters. “Yes, there’s the business side of it: profit loss, budgeting, all of that, but really the practical day-to-day is engagement with customers, stocking the store based on your customer base, relating to your market. All of that expertise is within the neighborhood.”
In addition to the rich skill sets already present in the neighborhood, Jay Kratz, the director of real estate development for Price Hill Will, said Meiser’s reopening has been a success because of the unity and determination of residents.
“[T]hey stuck to it," Kratz said. "They were very tenacious to get this to happen, and this simply couldn’t have happened without that energy.”
Monique John covers gentrification for WCPO 9. She is part of our Report For America donor-supported journalism program. Read more about RFA here.
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