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Fruit and vegetable oasis finds it hard to survive in a "food desert"

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(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)
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There are plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables at Witherbees Market. What they need are customers.

Fifteen months after it opened, Flint’s first downtown grocery in 30 years is struggling to stay open.    

Witherbees Market was intended to serve the needs of people living in downtown Flint. The downtown zone, like many other urban areas in Michigan, has been described as a "food desert", with little access to fruits, vegetables and other fresh food.   

But co-owner Dave White says the slumping economy and exodus of people from the neighborhood has meant lower demand for fresh groceries.  

“It is a struggle.," White says. "We’re trying to change our material that we have in the store because we can no longer focus on just the general area…in the downtown community as we had originally planned because there just isn’t the people there that can support the store.”   

White concedes if business doesn’t pick up, Witherbees Market may close within the next six months.  He says one unexpected bright spot has come from Flint's international student population.  White says the international students like to cook at home, instead of eating out, and they prefer fresh vegetables.