GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Grand Rapids Historic Preservation Commission on Wednesday approved the design for a mixed-use building at Wealthy Street SE and Fuller Avenue.
The builder plans to put a full-service grocery store on the lot, which was once home to a gas station but has sat vacant since the 1970s.
“The dream is a neighborhood grocery store where you can get everything that you would see at a normal grocery store,” explained Jacey Ehmann, whose building and development firm Metric Structures bought the lot in April.
The store’s footprint is only 4,300 square feet with 12 parking spaces.
“It is small and the site constraints are definitely a factor here, (but) there are a lot of places where there are a lot smaller grocery stores. Manhattan has grocery stores all along every block,” Ehmann said.
Ehmann said the grocery would cover two floors, either a main floor and a basement or a main floor and a second floor.
She’s the fourth developer to try to repurpose the vacant lot on the northeast corner of Wealthy and Fuller and she has yet to ink a deal with grocery tenant. But she said she’s talking to prospects who have expressed interest.
Optimistically, Ehmann hopes to break ground this fall and be ready for shoppers by next summer.
Wende Randall, director of the Kent County Essential Needs Task Force, said there is a need for a grocery store in the area.
Even with the Farmer’s Market on Fulton, the relatively new Michigan Street Gordon Food Store and Bridge Street Market, there remains a lack of full-service grocery options from Michigan Street south to Hall and the Grand River east to Fuller.
Neighborhood stores like Martha’s Vineyard on Union and Grand Central Market on Monroe Center have fresh produce, but Randall said a full grocery store at Wealthy and Fuller would help fill a void.
“From a proximity standpoint in terms of having geographic access to a grocery store, it’s a good location for anyone in the community,” Randall said.
She hopes the store will be affordably priced and welcoming to the neighborhood’s lower-income residents.
“Any development is positive development, but the question is, ‘Is it equitable development?’ On that question, I absolutely think the jury is out,” she said.
The revitalization of the neighborhood around Wealthy Street with its vibrant restaurant, bar and coffee shop scene has already pushed rents out of reach for some longtime residents. The median income of those living in the census tract that includes Wealthy and Fuller now stands at $45,871 and 27% of households are under the federal poverty level.
“Ultimately, when you consider proximity to other fruit/veggie retailers, the (proposed grocery site) is not bad, but whether it responds to food insecurity depends on the affordability of the items sold,” Randall explained. “Most households to the immediate north and east of the site will be able to afford to shop there regardless of price point. (But) nearly half of the households to the south and southeast may not be able to afford the items.”
In terms of its level of food insecurity, Randall said the Wealthy and Fuller area is not the hardest hit in the city.
Jacey Ehmann said she hopes prices at the proposed store “will be comparable to other grocery stores in the area.” She said it will not be a “high-end specialty store.”
Emily Smith, who lives in the Uptown neighborhood, said she hopes the store becomes reality.
“It’s really a big of a food desert in terms of great produce. We’ve got the farmers market, but that’s about it. So we’re hoping we’ll have more access to fresh food here in the Southeast,” Smith said.
Right now, she has her groceries delivered to her home but she’d rather do the shopping herself.
“It will be really nice to be able to pick out my own food,” she said.
Deandre Love, who works at Fish Fry on Wealthy, would also like to see the grocery store.
“Usually they’re going further up north (to find groceries) or they go to that Meijer or they have to go all the way out to Cascade, and that’s just a drive,” Love said.
Love was concerned, however, about the availability of parking.
A former neighbor didn’t think the lot was big enough.
“I just don’t think it’s the best use,” Tim Salisbury said. “There’s enough room there for any kind of a grocery store like we really need. They need more room than that.”