Plans for a community-owned food market in Charlotte’s West Boulevard Corridor are underway. Three Sisters Market, a co-op grocery store initiative by the West Boulevard Neighborhood Coalition, was recently awarded $3 million from the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners as part of the county’s FY 2024 budget.
The West Boulevard Neighborhood Coalition is a non-profit organization that focuses on improving the West Boulevard Corridor, a primarily Black neighborhood, by providing access to healthy food and resources to community members, educational programming to youth and advocating for further development of the Corridor.
Three Sisters Market currently operates as a pop-up farmers market at the Urban Farm and aims to quench a need for food in an area where access is primarily limited to convenience and dollar stores that currently saturate the corridor.
Why it matters: At least 33% of residents of the West Boulevard corridor must travel more than a mile to a supermarket or large grocery store, according to the West Boulevard Neighborhood Coalition, making it a federally-designated food desert.
The organization plans to use the $3 million funding to support the development, design and construction of the market’s new 12,000-square-foot brick-and-mortar store.
Seeds of Community Change
Three Sisters Market currently receives its’ produce through Seeds for Change, a program the West Boulevard Neighborhood Coalition began in 2016, according to Sharika Comfort, the organization’s executive director.
Seeds for Change works with youth from the community to grow fresh produce, such as kale, honey, tomatoes and collard greens. The produce is then sold to the community through the market at 2901 Romare Bearden Drive.
Three Sisters Market’s new brick-and-mortar space will help ease the lack of accessible grocery stores in the neighborhood, Comfort told QCity Metro.
She said that for more than 30 years, the corridor has been a “food desert,” an area where people have limited access to healthy and affordable food, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
“There’s no walkable grocery store option for residents within a one-mile radius of the corridor,” Comfort said.
Comfort also said the community is involved in the planning. She said the initiative is led by dozens of residents who have attended several West Boulevard Neighborhood Coalition meetings. The sessions, she said, have helped to inform the construction and development of the new space.
“It’s not one or two people who are developing ideas and plans,” Comfort said, adding that conversations about the initiative have been happening within the community for years.
Building on need
Comfort said Three Sisters Market is currently in the design phase of its new space and is working with Freedom Communities, a nonprofit developer, LandDesign, and Neighboring Concepts, a local design firm, for the design and architecture of the project.
Comfort said construction is expected to begin by the start of 2024, citing permitting and rezoning as part of the timeline. The physical store should be set to open around 12 months after construction begins, she said.
Comfort told QCity Metro Three Sisters Market is also in the process of hiring a general manager. The manager will be responsible for acquiring produce and goods, and making recommendations for store details like pricing and day-to-day operations.
Items inside the store will include fresh produce, meats and other groceries. Comfort said it will sell “anything that you would find in your local grocery store.”
She said the store’s final details, like operating hours, are currently undetermined, but the organization plans to consider the community’s needs. She said many residents in the corridor are working-class families, and hours could reflect this.
Three Sisters Market at the Urban Farm will re-open on July 8 and operate on Fridays from 9 a.m. to noon and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The West Boulevard Neighborhood Coalition also plans to launch a capital campaign to support the funding of Three Sisters Market. Their goal is to raise $10 million to help open the doors of the Three Sisters Market