By the end of April, Gem City Market—a west Dayton Co-op—will open to the public, bringing to fruition six years of planning. The Gem City Market was made possible in part through the Winning Victories Grant awarded to Lela Klein ’02 in 2019 for her proposal to create “a co-operative economy in the rust belt.”
Klein is Co-Executive Director of Co-op Dayton and sits on the board of Gem City Market. She said that the Gem City Market has been a major milestone, “We raised over $4 million in grants and obtained a New Market Tax Credit. We knocked on more than 200 doors, hosted bi-monthly community meetings, held phone rallies to elderly and low-income members, and hosted online sessions to use real-life pandemic experiences to understand and reimagine our economy.”
Klein also told The Herald Bulletin that the planning for Gem City began in 2016 with the development of a business plan.
“It’s a slow process,” Klein said of opening Gem City. “You have to develop community trust. We surveyed 1,200 people to determine if the location and product selection would work.”
The location for Gem City Market was determined to fill a void left when the local Kroger store closed in 2009, leaving an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 people living miles away from a grocery store. And, according to Food Hardship studies by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), Dayton ranks in the bottom quartile of cities in the nation for food hardship for families with children.
“Now people have to shop at a dollar store or ride a bus 45 minutes to get to a grocery store,” Klein said. “Since we started three more grocery stores closed in the area. This is an economically depressed area.”
Gem City Market’s 16,000-square-foot facility located at 324 Salem Avenue in Dayton will include a kitchen classroom, a Five Rivers Health Clinic, an outpost of the local Third Perk coffee shop, and a community room designed to host a variety of events and meetings aimed at bringing people together. Gem City Market is also working together with local farmers with the hope to supply their store with 15–20% locally grown produce.
Gem City Market currently has around 3,200 members that have paid a $100 membership fee, 2,000 of whom live in Dayton. A $10 membership is available for people that self-identify as limited income. Gem City Market also has a 50/50 match membership for people who live in the trade area zip code made possible through Premier Health which will pay half of the membership fee.