Raphael Wright is crowdfunding his way to being the only black grocery store owner in Detroit. He plans to open Neighborhood Grocery to offer a wide selection of items ranging from fresh produce and local products to the city’s east side.
“There's nothing that's walkable or nothing that delivers food of a healthy variety or a whole variety in that neighborhood,” he said.
Wright turned to small-scale investors to back the launch, because, he said, traditional lenders tend to balk at the slim profit margins yielded by grocery stores.
“Instead of begging to be at somebody else's table or knocking at somebody else's door,” he said, “we created our own platform and do what we need to do for ourselves.”
Since launching a GoFundMe campaign in 2017, Wright has raised nearly $60,000. Investors are all from Michigan, he said, and will receive equity in the grocery store as a part of an effort to create a sense of collective ownership of the business. Wright added that he will match investor contributions dollar for dollar and that additional donors have also added to the effort of raising funds.
About 30,000 Detroiters do not have access to a full grocery store, according to a 2017 study by the Detroit Food Policy Council. Experts have characterized some parts city neighborhoods as “food deserts,” because of their lack of affordable and healthy food options.
That’s something that Wright hopes to change, starting with the store he’s planning to open in a shuttered grocery store in the Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood. For him, food should be the starting point of efforts to revive local economies.
“A grocery store is the start of that process of getting the community redeveloped, getting populations to come back to their certain areas,” he said. “You have to have food there, where you can't live somewhere where you don't have access to food.”
The lifelong Detroiter said he’s watched as investors have moved into the city and took on projects that put their own interests ahead of community needs. “I want to help people and I want us to be happier, healthier, and more united. And that's more important to me, to financial profit.”
Construction on Neighborhood Grocery has already started. Wright hopes that the grocery will start offering an array of items including prepared meal options and locally-made products to residents by the end of the year.