The public-private partnership that led to plans for a Cook Medical manufacturing plant in the Arlington Woods neighborhood announced Thursday that it will build a full-service grocery right next door.
The 14,000-square-foot store—Indy Fresh Market—will be run by two young neighborhood entrepreneurs, Michael McFarland and Marckus Williams, who could eventually own the store. It will be located at 6190 E. 38th St., in an area that is designated a food desert, meaning residents live at least one mile from a grocery.
“Food deserts exist throughout our state,” said Pete Yonkman, president of Cook Medical and Cook Group, in written remarks. “They are in our cities and in our rural communities. And we know that more than a quarter of Black Hoosiers live in a food desert. The challenges around food insecurity exacerbates already present health inequalities that can impact many generations to come.”
Bloomington-based Cook Medical will build the store, with the goal of using 100% minority-owned contractors. The Indianapolis Foundation and Impact Central Indiana will provide start-up money for the project. And Goodwill of Central & Southern Indiana will provide wrap-around services to employees, including housing support, legal aid, and health care.
Indy Fresh Market is expected to create 15-20 new jobs with starting hourly wages of $10-$13, said Ashley Gurvitz, CEO of the Alliance for Northeast Unification, at a news conference Thursday. Construction is set to kick off in July, she added, with a soft opening planned for May 2022.
In addition, Martin University is developing an official curriculum that would allow individuals to earn accredited certificates and degrees in grocery store operations.
“Every time we hear someone talk about the statistics, they talk about how people from our community are top of the bottom and bottom of the top—so how do we not just beat the odds, but change the odds?” said university president Shawn Huddleston, who emphasized “amplifying and elevating the excellence of the community.”
McFarland and Williams will undergo training to help them manage the store. Cook will use a lease-to-own model with the goal of transferring ownership to the pair. So far, there’s about $2 million to pay off on a low- or no-interest basis using store earnings, McFarland said, but private donations could take a chunk out of the total.
“What they [McFarland and Williams] are trying to do, it’s hard,” said Cook’s Yonkman. “… You don’t just do this 9-to-5—it’s a lifestyle. And I just have to say: congratulations to them for being brave enough to try to do something that’s next to impossible, and that’s to bring food to your neighbors and your families when other grocery stores have abandoned the community.”
Community leaders recalled watching the grocery stores leave the neighborhood, one by one, during a panel Thursday.
“When we started losing grocery stores, we lost a Safeway at 46th and Shadeland, we lost a Kroger at Devington Plaza at 46th and Arlington, then we lost a Walmart at 38th and Franklin,” said Ron Gibson, president of the Devington Communities Association and a former councillor.
For Gibson, those closures showed “that our community probably wasn’t important.”
“There’s nothing available for me in my own neighborhood, and I’ve been here since 1970,” said Joyce Randolph, Forest Manor Community Association president, about the lack of fresh organic produce nearby.
Families were left to do their grocery shopping at expensive gas station mini-marts with limited produce and “paraphernalia” next to the registers, said Mark Webster, a longtime community member and catering business owner.
“We don’t deserve that,” Webster said. “We deserve to go into the store, where we can see the fresh fruits and vegetables, but we don’t have to be hindered by paraphernalia and double pricing.”
The Kroger Co. closed its location at 6108 E. 46th St. in 2018, after concluding it was unrealistic for the store to return to profitability, while Walmart closed a grocery-focused Neighborhood Market at 8010 E. 38th St. in 2019, citing poor “financial performance.” But Indy Fresh Market will be here to stay, McFarland said after the news conference.
“Other companies, you know, they have their bottom dollars and so they don’t have any personal attachments,” McFarland said. “I think that our personal attachment to this and our personal determination and our love for the neighborhood will help us keep it open and help provide our community with healthy food.”
The store will accept government food assistance programs like SNAP, WIC and Indy’s Fresh Bucks, according to the project website.
McFarland and Williams will close down their small 2,000-square-foot store, Wall Street Convenience and Grocery, this month as they prepare to upsize to the new 14,000-square-foot location. Those employees could move to the new store, but for now, many are participating in Goodwill programming to help them transition to construction work at the site, McFarland said.
Thursday’s announcement comes roughly six months after Cook Medical announced it would invest $7 million to help build a $15 million medical device manufacturing facility at 38th Street and Sheridan Avenue in a neighborhood that has some of the highest poverty rates in the state and in which 86% of the population is Black.
Cook is partnering with Goodwill of Central & Southern Indiana, The Indianapolis Foundation, Impact Central Indiana and the United Northeast Community Development Corp. to build the facility and hire 100 employees for jobs expected to pay an average hourly wage of $16 plus benefits.
“As you think about those 100 new jobs— they’re not just jobs, they’re careers,” said Gov. Eric Holcomb at Thursday’s event. “These are careers that lead to as far as you want to go.”
The 40,000-square-foot manufacturing facility, also being constructed at 6190 E. 38th St., is expected to make medical devices including introducers, sheaths, drainage catheters and needles.