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Unified Government breaks ground on new downtown KCK grocery store

Posted at 7:24 PM, Aug 15, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-16 07:30:02-04

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — "The 'Dotte is hot," if you believe Unified Government leaders.

Touting recent development in downtown Kansas City, Kansas, the Unified Government and its partners broke ground on a new grocery store Thursday at 5th Street and Minnesota Avenue, The Merc Co+op.

Construction will start this month and the store is slated to open in summer 2020.

"For those residents to finally have access to healthy affordable food, this is a great first step," Unified Government Economic Development Director Katherine Carttar said.

The Merc held about a dozen community listening sessions where folks weighed in on what their top needs are. The biggest issues were accessibility, affordability, quality, community representation as well as safety and security.

Mary Collins is a Wyandotte County resident and also does work to eliminate food deserts in the eastern part of the county. She said security needs to be an absolute priority.

"This neighborhood might have a few dings against it, but it's really a safe neighborhood," Collins said. "There are a lot of families here."

It's similar to a Kansas City, Missouri, initiative involving the Lipari Brothers Sun Fresh Market on Prospect Avenue, which opened last year with the intent of offering healthy food options in an area where there are none.

That store's sales have fallen short of expectations and there's no money for security, lighting or maintenance, which recently prompted the KCMO City Council to allocate $375,000 to help pay the bills.

Carttar said they're allowing The Merc some time to grow.

"We're not expecting them to be making a profit on day one, so we put in a stabilization fund for the next three years that will slowly decline," she said. "(That) gives time for neighborhoods to change shopping patterns."

The University of Kansas Health System's Strawberry Hill campus will open in a few weeks, which Carttar said will bring roughly 200 people to downtown each day. Workers at the nearby City Hall also will have another place to get a bite to eat.

The Merc's success will depend on people shopping there.

"The margins on grocery stores are really, really teeny-tiny, so the baseline economics of sales are the challenge," Collins said. "There is a lot of money in Wyandotte County than people give us credit for. I mean, everyone needs groceries."

Collins is one of the organizers with Dotte Mobile Grocer, a rolling grocery store, that also aims to eliminate food deserts. She hopes the organizations can work together.

The Merc, which is based out of Lawrence, focuses on fresh, organic food. They have promised to stock the KCK shelves with items people want and are adding KCK residents to their board to represent the community's interests.