Food cooperative and farm market see benefit of downtown groceries

by Eric Ginsburg

Deep Roots Market plans to move to a North Eugene Street site that is close to both downtown Greensboro and the Fisher Park neighborhood. (photo by Eric Ginsburg)

After suffering from a lack of grocery stores, soon downtown Greensboro will likely boast two options, located less than three blocks from each other.

Deep Roots Market, the only natural foods cooperative in the city, is steadily pushing forward with plans to relocate downtown, though the move is taking longer than hoped. The store would be located near the Downtown Farm Market, opened in November 2009.

General Manager Joel Landau said the cooperative initially wanted to break ground for the new building a few months ago. The desired location, which is on the 600 block of North Eugene Street between Smith Street and Fisher Avenue, is the site of a dilapidated warehouse building that will be torn down in order to build a new store.

“We’re looking forward to being a vibrant hub for the local economy in a central location,” Landau said. “Once groundbreaking takes place then we’ll be in a position to make a fair estimate of when we’ll be open.”

The cooperative has already undergone its preliminary review with the city, presenting the plan to people from eight city departments who explained the necessary modifications to meet city regulations. The developer, North Eugene Partners, is in the process of completing the changes and will then resubmit the site plan to city staff.

Deep Roots has been looking at the site for over two years. In that time, Mike Causey opened the Downtown Farm Market on Greene Street. Causey, who used to sell his products at the Greensboro Farmers’ Curb Market, said he decided to open the store after controversy at the market and customers consistently saying they wanted somewhere to buy fresh, local fruit and vegetables throughout the week.

The city is currently deciding whether the curb market — open for part of the day Wednesday and Saturday on Yanceyville Street east of downtown — will be turned over to an independent managing organization or continue to be operated by the parks and recreation department.

“I live on the same farm where I grew up so I’ve been around vegetables for my whole life,” Causey said. “[At the store] we can help local farms but at the same time we can sell bananas and avocados.”

The Downtown Farm Market sells primarily produce, and items are supplied by 43 farms, including some that sell at the farmers’ curb mar ket.

Causey said his business complements the farmers’ curb market, and if Deep Roots moves around the corner the two would also complement each other.

“Deep Roots has lots of products that we don’t carry and don’t intend to,” Causey said. “Deep Roots would be a benefit. Two gas stations can work well across the street from each other — it’s a synergy.”

Landau agreed that having more businesses operating in the area would help each other.

“I tend to agree with him that it’s more likely to bring more people to the area and it might bring people to his business too,” Landau said. ”I don’t expect it to have a big impact on us one way or the other. I suspect we’re not going to have a big impact on him either.”

People travel from across the county to shop at Deep Roots, and Landau said he expects the store to retain its customer base while expanding by being in a central location in a more residential neighborhood.

Numerous co-op customers said the new location is further from where they live but it wouldn’t stop them from shopping there, though one said he would likely go fewer times per week.

Julie Budd, who lives in Burlington and works in Greensboro, shops at the cooperative and the Downtown Farm Market when she can, and said the move would not affect her shopping patterns.

Daniel Marut buys most of his groceries at Harris Teeter and Food Lion. He lives on Simpson Street and said he would shop at Deep Roots if the move a block away goes forward. Despite his proximity to the Downtown Farm Market, Marut said he doesn’t shop there.

Deep Roots plans to expand a number of its offerings at a new location, including a deli and café with indoor and outdoor seating, larger sections, begin offering beer and wine and a meeting room for workshops or community meetings.

In order to make it all possible, the cooperative will nearly double its staff, going from 23 employees to about 45.

The Downtown Farm Market, on the other hand, is much smaller. Customers interact directly with Causey, who sits behind a table greeting people as they enter. His space is small, which he says customers appreciate because it isn’t overwhelming and they can get in and out easily.

Alyssa Lafferty lives a block from the farm market and said she and her roommate shop at the farm market about once a month. She doesn’t shop at Deep Roots now, but likely would if they moved downtown.

“Food access is terrible down here,” Lafferty said.

Lafferty said her roommate is loyal to the farm market and probably would not shop at the cooperative, even if it were closer.

Both the cooperative and Causey see the benefits of being located in an area where large numbers of people live or work, and cited customer input as a reason for their moves. Landau also explained that the cooperative’s decision was based on a market study and, in part, on proximity to the planned downtown greenway. Causey, on the other hand, was influenced by the amount of parking in front of his location.

Deep Roots still needs to raise an additional $11,000 to reach its initial fundraising goal. The cooperative has already raised $369,000 through a co-op owner loan program, as well as $550,000 in commercial lender commitments.

“We still have some more money to raise, but we’re far enough along that our board feels confident about going forward at this point,” Landau said.