When the IGA supermarket in Baldwin, Florida, shut down, it left the town of 1,500 people without a nearby option for fresh food. The town council knew it had to do something.
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Mayor Sean Lynch and town officials tried to lure in new grocers to fill the gap, but the 10,000-square-foot space IGA left behind was too small for other big-box brands, and for interested mom-and-pop shops in the area, the space was too big or not affordable.
The next best option was a 10-mile drive to Macclenny, Florida, or a 20-mile trek to Jacksonville. But with an aging population, a below-national-median household income of about $44,300 and a 17 percent poverty rate, greater than the 13 percent national average, making that journey proved to be a challenge for many residents.
Baldwin became a food desert. And at least a third of residents were separated by a mile or more from fresh greens and meat. So the town decided to make its own grocer.
“Necessity,” Lynch told FOX Business. That was the driving factor behind opening the market. “We’ve got seniors who had to drive [long distances] and one-car families that weren’t able to get their proper nutrition value” in the absence of the uprooted IGA.
Officials used the same building IGA occupied, restocked the shelves and hired new staff. In his proposal to the town council, Lynch highlighted the hire of a full-time store manager with 12 years of experience and the opportunity to create new jobs in the town.
“When you’ve got something important to do,” he told Jacksonville.com, “get it done.”
The town council took a $150,000 loan from a reserve fund to staff the store and pay vendors, and plans to invest that money into the business once they’re in the black.
In the interim, shoppers are happy to have somewhere close by. “I was happy to see something back in Baldwin,” Esther Atkins told Jacksonville.com. “It was well-stocked,” and “they used a lot of local farmers and vendors,” she said.
And the reaction has been great. Demand is “growing and growing,” Lynch told FOX Business. Most of the produce and meat is selling well, he added. “That is our biggest seller.”
Baldwin’s latest move comes as other towns create solutions to supply fresh food options. But, according to Shelly Ver Ploeg, a food assistance branch chief for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Baldwin was one of the only towns to open its own grocer. “I love the story of this town,” she told Jacksonville.com. “They are very resourceful.”