Operators of a mobile farmers market are stepping in to try to fill some of the gap left in a Little Rock neighborhood after the area's only grocery store closed this month.
City Market at 4110 W. 12th St. closed last weekend.
One of the owners, Chad Evans, said Friday that the store was unable to negotiate a favorable lease with the building owner. He declined to confirm talk among residents that the disagreement centered on needed improvements to the building.
"We hate that we're leaving. We really do. It's really out of our control. We don't own that building. We don't have a lease and we can't continue to operate there," Evans said. He and his co-owners operate grocery stores in central Arkansas.
Residents complained to city officials about losing their only grocery store. Vice Mayor Kathy Webb, who is also the executive director of the Hunger Relief Alliance, then worked to get the Fresh2You mobile market to begin visiting the neighborhood every Monday as a temporary support.
Fresh2You is a mobile market that sells fresh produce from a retrofitted bus. The bus will stop at West 13th Street and South Cedar Street from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. starting this Monday, and each Monday thereafter. The official announcement will be made today at Mosaic Church on Colonel Glenn Road.
The church's nonprofit arm, Vine and Village, runs the bus. Fresh2You was created in 2016 through a partnership with the church, the Hunger Relief Alliance, a farmers collective called Raising Arkansas, the city and Rock Region Metro transit agency. Each week it visits areas in Little Rock where fresh, nutritious foods are not readily available.
"It's not fair that what your ZIP code is may determine if you have access to fresh food and groceries," Webb said.
She said the mobile market operator also will be asking residents on Monday for ideas on setting up a second day of the week for the market to visit.
The bus may be able to stop in the area twice per week. Hunger Relief Alliance will be on-site to offer recipe cards and cooking classes.
The now-closed City Market is in the Forest Hills neighborhood, but it served surrounding neighborhoods, too.
Webb said she has talked with a representative in U.S. Sen. John Boozman's Little Rock office and that person will visit the mobile market Monday to assess the situation. Webb has researched legislation from other states on how governments have addressed the problem of a lack of access to fresh foods.
Now that City Market has closed, the closest grocery store is the Kroger on Beechwood Street in the Hillcrest neighborhood 1.6 miles away from the City Market building.
There's a Family Dollar, which sells some food products, a few blocks down the road from City Market on West 12th Street.
"Our main concern is primarily the older individuals who live in our area who do not have cars or a means of transportation other than the bus to get groceries who formerly were patronizing the City Market," said Rohn Muse, president of the Forest Hills Neighborhood Association and a candidate for the Ward 2 position on the city Board of Directors.
Muse said he wants to ask the city for funds to give such residents free bus tokens so they can get to a grocery store.
"We're looking at that now," said Ward 2 City Director Ken Richardson. "I've had a couple conversations with both [City Manager Bruce Moore] and the mayor to look at possible options."
Richardson said he also has told his constituents that if more people had frequented the nearby grocery store, the store managers may have been able to afford the rent increase.
He said neighborhood support of businesses is important.
The grocery store closure also affects the Hope neighborhood, just south of Forest Hills.
"City Market may lack curb appeal, and need major internal repairs and upkeep, but closing it and not replacing it with a better grocery store inside and out is unacceptable," said Anika Whitfield, an area resident and well-known vocal community activist.
In an email to city directors, Whitfield linked the grocery store closure to what she described as officials not working with residents in that part of town.
"Please tell us what recourse we as neighbors have in preserving a grocery store in our neighborhood. The City of Little Rock said that they and Metroplan were committed to working with the neighbors in our community to improve our neighborhood without forced gentrification. Yet, we have seen 'revitalization' primarily without community support," she wrote.
Whitfield continued: "We have witnessed the narrowing of our main thoroughfare with bike lanes in a community that was never studied to determine the impact nor need for a bike lane; a state of the art police substation that has failed to house a promised space for a business or businesses endorsed and supported by neighborhood and community members; and, a spike in violent crimes presumably linked with the rise in unemployment, the closure of two of our neighborhood schools within the past two decades, and the failure to support neighborhood improvement grants."
Phone calls to a man who is known as the representative of the owner of the City Market building were not returned. The property owner is listed as Kim Properties LLC on the Pulaski County assessor's website.
Metro on 02/25/2018
Print Headline: Rolling market to visit LR area that lost grocery store