'Seeds Of Hope Blossoming': New Community Market In Southern Dallas Makes Fresh Food Accessible
“It’s gorgeous in here!” Thana Simmons says as she walks into Southpoint Community Market. She’s one of the first customers. “Oh my gosh – I was taken away when I first walked in.”
Simmons can’t stop smiling. Her friend Shanay Wise gives her a hug and says, “I’m just excited for it to be open, and see people are already purchasing!”
Cornerstone Church’s program director Donald Wesson is behind the stone white counter. There’s a short line. He smiles nervously as he greets customers.
Wesson has been working to create a community market in the Forest District for seven years. The closest grocery store is more than a mile away from the church. He says he feels like he’s one step closer to building a healthy community.
“A healthy neighborhood needs food access, job creation, and transportation,” Wesson says. “We have been working on different cogs on this wheel but this is a major one.”
There’s fresh fruit in baskets for 50 cents, avocados for a quarter and frozen veggies in the refrigerated section. Pasta sauce, bread, canned goods and paper products line the shelves in the 800 square foot space.
“It shows that our neighborhood is on the mend,” Thana Simmons says. She is the executive director of Viola’s House, a home for teenage mothers, that’s just a few blocks from the market. “That we can offer quality products at a good price. The people of this neighborhood understand why it’s important to support a business like this. Because we want the neighborhood to be better.”
Southpoint’s design is purposely attractive… a modern gold light fixture hangs over the stone counter. Black and white designer tiles artistically accent the walls.
“Our philosophy is that South Dallas deserves beautiful things and nice things,” says Chris Simmons, Cornerstone Baptist Church’s pastor. He’s been a leader in the community for more than 30 years.
With the help of The Real Estate Council Foundation, Cornerstone has spearheaded development in this community. In the last couple of years, the church opened a laundromat, bike shop and a kitchen that serves free hot meals. Now, Southpoint offers more than just a place to buy food, but a place to gather.
An elegant coffee bar sits under a neon sign — FRESH.
“What we try to do is listen to the community to see what they need,” Simmons says.
Everything on the shelves was based on surveys and meetings with people in the community. There’s a suggestion box on the coffee bar for customers to have additional input.
“We focused on fresh nutrition that are hard to find and a price point that could be viable for our neighborhood,” Wesson says.
Judge Mark Murrell, pastor at Victory Baptist Church, says a community market has been desperately needed in this neighborhood that’s adjacent to Fair Park. Census data shows that the average income in this zip code is $16,000 a year and most people don’t have cars.
“This really was a rundown shopping center and they have really turned it around,” Murrell says. “Just two days ago a major drug bust by the FBI shut down homes on MLK. Now look at the seeds of hope blossoming in our community in the same week. It’s a really wonderful great thing that’s happening here.”
Figuring out how to make Southpoint sustainable has been challenging, but Wesson says he found an unlikely source of inspiration: The upscale compact urban market Royal Blue Grocery. There’s one in Dallas’ Arts District and two more in Austin and San Antonio. Royal Blue offers fresh grab and go food and conventional grocery items. Wesson says he wants to tap food vendors in the South Dallas community to sell their eats at Southpoint.
“I think the biggest part is letting the community know how many food businesses are in the neighborhood,” Wesson says.
Wesson is hoping these food entrepreneurs will lease space in the new community kitchen next door. The plan is those dollars would subsidize the grocery store.
“Promoting small food businesses in our community to give them opportunity to get to commercial scale is important,” says Wesson.“ Keeping a South Dallas dollar in South Dallas.”
Grocery stores have low profit margins and need volume to succeed. SMU Marketing Professor Ed Fox says he’s unsure that Southpoint’s business model will work, but if there’s philanthropic support things look much brighter for the market.
“If you can get donations and subsidies from other sources then this kind of a model becomes much more plausible, but if you want a self-sustaining operation the way it’s configured is likely to lose a lot of money selling groceries,” says Fox.
Cornerstone Church and The Real Estate Council Foundation plan to support Southpoint until it is self-sustaining, but neighbors say don’t underestimate the loyalty in this community. Teacher Christina Hood lives across the street from the market.
“I’m reinvesting money back into the community that I live in and I’m supporting local businesses. It’s great. I’m excited about it.”
Hood grabs a sample cup of peach cobbler at the check-out counter — a home-made thank you for supporting more than just a grocery store, but a community’s hope for restoration.
This story is part of an ongoing series on food insecurity and challenges to economic mobility in South and West Dallas, reported through a partnership of the nonprofit Dallas Free Press and The Dallas Morning News, with support from the Solutions Journalism Network. Sujata Dand can be reached at Sdand2003@gmail.com.