Resilient Neighborhoods:New Detroit grocery store leans into family and community to promote health

The holidays are officially here. Christmas music echoes through halls; folks wear Santa’s signature red hat and Rudolph’s nose at parties, and many will soon catch flights worldwide to spend the next week or more with loved ones. You could say that a sense of togetherness and memory-creating makes December the most wonderful time of the year. For many people, due to distance and busy commitments, extended family gatherings usually happen only during the holiday season. But for Raphael Wright, that family connection is a part of everyday life. 

It’s all good in the Neighborhood

This past October, grocer, gardener, and entrepreneur Raphael Wright opened Neighborhood Grocery, a small-scale market with a hyper-local focus, on Detroit’s East Side. It’s been nearly ten years since the city, with a 78 percent Black population, had a Black-owned grocery store. Wright, a Detroit native who grew up near the new market in Jefferson Chalmers, says he’s been listening to what his community has been asking for regarding healthy, local food. He's working to provide fresh options and local products that haven't been close or convenient for too long. 

“There’s a lot of grocery stores in Detroit, but grocery stores aren’t as good as they should be,” he says. “They don’t provide what the neighborhood needs. It should be dictated by what the neighborhood wants to see in stores.”

Raphael Wright at Neighborhood Grocery. Photo by Nick Hagen.

Wright is a serial entrepreneur passionate about representing and enhancing the city of Detroit. Before opening the store, he founded Urban Plug L3C in 2014, a social investment company designed to invest in Detroit’s inner city, and started both a clothing line, HustleMania, and a hip-hop media collective, Plug’d Media, that published his first book, How 2 Hustle.

Wright opened the full-service grocery store after six years of fundraising, gaining support from fellow Detroiters, Michiganders, and philanthropic organizations. In 2020, he secured funding from the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation (DEGC). In February 2023, Neighborhood Grocery was a Round 21 Motor City Match Cash awardee, winning $85,000. In 2017, he launched a GoFundMe page, which today has raised over $183,000 of its $220,000 goal.

“With business, there's not going to be a lot of funding coming in unless it’s proven that it could work,” Wright says. “But the crowdfunding element proved to me that people believed in the dream. I’m very appreciative of all the support I have gotten, and I’m really focused on that.”

In 2020, Wright bought half an acre of vacant land to start a market garden to self-distribute produce to customers and grow produce to sell in the store. He's harvested a variety of summer crops such as tomatoes, squash, salad greens, and turnips.   

“I was exposed to gardening, but I didn’t do it seriously until the pandemic,” he says. “Once the pandemic hit, it became a necessity and another opportunity to serve the neighborhood.”

In addition to providing Detroiters with healthy food and produce options, Wright has been working on a financial model for the store that encourages business stability and financial literacy opportunities for participants. In 2020, he introduced an equity crowdfunding campaign, where Michiganders can become founding investors in the project for $50 and begin earning a percentage share when the store is profitable.  

“This is something we give back in exchange for the investment in our store,” says Wright. “Yes,  a way to finance, but this is how you change the neighborhood. You can’t keep asking for help outside. If we live in this city and want to change it, we have to do it ourselves.” 

Over 500 Michiganders have invested in the equity fund, two of whom are Raphael’s nephews, Kevante and Kieve Grimes. 

In times of test, family is best

Kevante “KG” Grimes and Kieve Grimes come from a family of entrepreneurs.

“It was a snowball effect from my father to Raf [Wright], to us,” says KG, store co-manager. Though entrepreneurship can be difficult, it’s a preferred occupation for the family because it comes with a sense of freedom, he says, and the ability to be your boss and make the change you want to see.

Kevante "KG" Grimes and Kieve Grimes in Neighborhood Grocery.
When it comes to making change, the Grimes brothers have watched Wright’s vision of the grocery store grow from an idea into actuality, witnessing the hard work, fundraising, and advertising Wright put into action for the past six years to open the doors. 

“I was on the outside of the journey, so I have a broad perspective. Seeing how he [Wright] started from t-shirts to books to a garden to a grocery store is an amazing process," says KG. "It’s like watching a movie."

In 2020, Wright signed a lease on a 5,000 sq. ft abandoned liquor store to house his dream of creating fresh food access in his community. Amid pandemic challenges that caused many Detroit businesses to shutter, Neighborhood Grocery was able to continue building support and momentum toward opening. 

“It seemed like it would have taken a long while,” says Kieve Grimes. “But through time, more and more stuff got done. People who haven’t been here in a long time see the total difference [between] what the store was [then] and what it has come out to be. It’s definitely been an adventure.”

The Grimes brothers assist Wright regularly in the store, which is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. The trio's creative partnership helps the market run smoothly. 

“We do everything collectively. We sit together and talk about events, what merch needs to go up, finances, and marketing,” says KG. “If you talk to yourself all day, you only have your own perspective. 

In addition to focusing on local products, the grocery store also showcases many Detroit and metro Detroit Black entrepreneurs, featuring items like MFER seasoning and sauces, Vegan Baddies, and Blake Hare’s cologne, “Superb.” 

“It’s not just a Black-owned store, but there are a lot of Black-owned products in here,” says KG. “The juices, the entire prepared food section, the seasonings… the tissue…ninety or ninety-five percent of the women’s and the men’s health [products] are Black-owned products too.”

According to Kieve Grimes, fresh fruits and vegetables are the most sought-after items in the store. The nearest option for neighbors to purchase from a fresh produce market within the city is located in Eastern Market, about a 17-minute drive away, and from December to March, open only on weekends. Trader Joe's and Kroger are about an eight-minute drive in Grosse Pointe. 

Photo by Nick Hagen.

“Everybody gets something from the produce area,” he says. “Customers stop there first. That produce area is the number one spot.”

Growing a healthy community

Wright and his nephews hope their familiarity with one another will engage consumers throughout the store. Situated in a residential neighborhood, walking distance from hundreds of homes, Neighborhood Grocery aims to be a place where people can access food staples, local products, and fresh produce and connect with neighbors. A community that plays together stays together, an idea Wright promotes through Wisdom Wednesdays, “Grocery Store Edition,” where customers stop in and play chess.

A table at Neighborhood Grocery has a chess board set up by Wise Guys Chess Club, which meets there on Wednesdays.
“Wednesdays are a good look; I look forward to Wednesdays. It's a movable space for more than just food here,” he says. “Just to see, you know, 20 to 30 people in one place and nobody fighting. We got music playing, and it’s not interrupting the shopping experience. It’s actually enhancing it.” 

Besides chess, the store holds various events for the community to engage in conversations promoting growth, health, and wealth. To combat food insecurity, lack of food education, and food waste, there is an option for consumers to sponsor a grocery box for a food-insecure family in Detroit during the spring and summer seasons.  

“We’re trying to make the hood healthy again,” says KG. 

The store’s essence of togetherness and community is also made visible in the artwork. While roaming the grocery aisles, customers view a bright and colorful mural of Earth, personifying human facial features: happy eyes, a nose, and a big smile. The mural is the work of The Smile Brand, a lifestyle brand by Detroit muralist Phillip Simpson, whose mission is to represent and give back to the community of Detroit one smile at a time. 

Also thinking about giving back, Wright and the Grimes Brothers are developing benefits for donors to the equity fund. The team says they will be rolling out an investor program in January and February, including discounts on store products, store updates, and the opportunity for locals to gain equity from investing in a project made in and for the neighborhood.

“This gives Detroit the opportunity to start their small portfolio of something to invest into. It gives us a sense of community,” says KG. “If you support it, it comes back to you. As we grow, you grow.” 

Neighborhood Grocery is located at 500 Manistique St. in Detroit. Store hours are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday. 

Resilient Neighborhoods is a reporting and engagement series examining how Detroit residents and community development organizations work together to strengthen local neighborhoods. It's made possible with funding from the Kresge Foundation.
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