, an independent grocery store tucked into a low-slung building near the old Kmart at Lake Street and I-35W, has only been open since mid-June. Yet it’s already received coverage in a half-dozen press outlets, from the Star Tribune
and the Huffington Post
What makes Good Grocer different? Founded by Kurt Vickman, long-serving (now former) pastor at Edina’s Upper Room Church
, Good Grocer is part co-op, part nonprofit social enterprise and all good.
According to its website, Good Grocer stocks more than 3,000 items, focusing mostly on fresh fruits and vegetables, and minimally processed meats, dairy and baked goods. Unlike a traditional co-op, whose members pay fees on joining, Good Grocer regulars pay for their memberships by volunteering at least 2.5 hours per month at the store: stocking shelves, working checkout, whatever needs to be done. In return, they get 25 percent discounts to sticker price on everything they buy at the store that month. Good Grocer has at least 300 members and counting.
The goal, says Vickman, is inside-out empowerment — the inverse of the standard outside-in, or top-down, charity model. Though Vickman doesn’t keep detailed statistics on members’ economic status, the immediate neighborhood is among Minneapolis’ poorest precincts.
Good Grocer helps locals who “value eating well, but can’t afford the ever-increasing cost of food” to partake in a food quality experience usually reserved for Whole Foods shoppers. By giving members an outlet to give back to their fellow shoppers in a tangible way, Good Grocer is literally helping people help themselves.
“Low-income people aren’t helpless or giftless,” says Vickman. “We all have gifts and strengths within us. It’s [Good Grocer’s] mission to draw those gifts and strengths out of our members and empower them to define themselves in terms of their potential, not their limitations.”
Good Grocer also addresses its densely populated environs’ glaring lack of fresh food options. Its corner of South Minneapolis doesn’t meet the technical definition of “food desert,” but the Midtown Global Market and the Uptown Cub — the closest reliable sources for fresh food — aren’t close at hand.
“We thought we’d get some positive feedback about our choice of location,” says Vickman, “but we were really taken aback by the number of people who came in to say, ‘Man, thank you for opening a grocery store here.’”
Then again, Good Grocer isn’t a straightforward charity. The blocks to the north and west of Good Grocer are economically diverse — and, in some areas, downright affluent — so a fair number of locals can afford to shop at the store without much regard to price. Good Grocer counts on those folks to patronize the store in numbers and pay full price for their purchases. Full-price customers subsidize in-need members who rely on the 25 percent discount and ensure that Good Grocer can afford to stock top-quality food items.
Indeed, Vickman sees Good Grocer as a low-friction way for people of means to give back in a more meaningful way than simply donating some cans to a food pantry or church around the holidays. The store’s motto is “Let us never tire of doing good,” a Scriptural reference to Christians’ charitable duties. That motto neatly summarizes Vickman’s choice to leave his relatively comfortable appointment at Upper Room and strike out as a social entrepreneur.
“I decided that I wanted to spend more of my time living the themes I was preaching, rather than just talking about them,” he explains.
Despite Good Grocer’s ecclesiastical pedigree, the store is strictly non-denominational — non-religious, actually. “No one’s handing out tracts at the door,” says Vickman, who notes that the store’s membership base is a reflection of the neighborhood’s racial and denominational diversity: first- and second-generation immigrants from Latin America, Asia and Africa shop and volunteer alongside the area’s established European and African-American residents.
“We’re not looking for help or support from outside the community here,” says Vickman. “We’re proud to be creating our own solutions.”