The building at 4315 W. Fond du Lac Ave. was on its fourth incarnation as a day care center when the coronavirus pandemic forced it to close.
The property’s owner wrestled with what to put in its place.
“Another day care center just did not sit well with us,” said Maurice “Moe” Wince, a real estate developer, who owns the property with his wife, Yashica Spears. “We kind of prayed on it a little bit.”
The answer was right in front of them. Almost every morning, Wince watched neighborhood children file into two gas stations on the corner of at Fond du Lac and Sherman Boulevard to buy Flaming Hots, juice boxes and Twinkies for breakfast.
“Nothing healthy,” Wince said. “None of that fits in the five food groups for healthy eating at all.”
It wasn’t another daycare the Sherman Park neighborhood needed. It was a neighborhood grocery store.
And thanks to a grant from the city of Milwaukee’s Fresh Food Access Fund, Wince and Spears will open the Sherman Park Grocery in that building this Friday.
“We are so excited, grateful and humbled to be here,” said Wince, of M&S Development and D&Q Investments. “My commitment is to this community.”
That commitment is ensuring Sherman Park residents have access to fresh fruits and vegetables. The area, he said, is in a food desert with the nearest full-line grocery store about two miles away.
Getting there can be a challenge in a neighborhood where 22 percent of residents live below the poverty line, and another 20 percent don’t have access to a vehicle, according to research by Data You Can Use.
Without immediate access to healthy foods, he said, the Black community will always suffer from high cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes and heart disease.
Food sovereignty for the Black community means not having to juggle between quantity or quality based on affordability, Wince said. He remembers as a child //having to take trips to the grocery store with his mom and being unable to buy everything on their grocery list.
“Growing up with eight sisters and three boys … there was always a shortage. Seven out of ten times, mom would be at the cash register and she would say, ‘Take that off. How much is it now.’”
Wince partnered with two local nonprofits to support his Feed My Sheep ministry, which will provide $50 gift cards to families who come up short at the cash register. Half the money, he said, must be spent on fresh fruits and vegetables, while the remaining must be used for other staples, such as dairy products.
“We are not going to go broke and give the kitchen sink away, but we are going to make sure that there is food on your table,” Wince said.
Shelves in the 2,180 square-foot store will be stocked with canned goods, fresh packaged meats and cleaning and laundry supplies. Some of its fresh produce will come from a hydroponics farming system located above the store.
Wince converted one of two second-floor apartments to house the hydroponics farm, which consists of 10 vertical-growing pods. Each pod can generate up to 25 pounds of produce, such as kale, mustards, collards or leafy lettuce. Pods also can be used to grow basil, cilantro and other culinary herbs.
The store also features a hot deli, serving healthy versions of soul food. Wince plans to employ 15 neighborhood residents and offer other services, such as check cashing and utility bill payments. He also hopes to eventually offer Western Union service and sell lottery tickets.
While the store aims to address food insecurity, its mission is broader. It is part of an effort to create a social-economic ecosystem on Fond du Lac Avenue. That ecosystem is the brainchild of Bishop Walter Harvey, the former president of Prism Economic Development Corp. The idea behind the ecosystem is to have businesses along that thoroughfare work together to support, grow and sustain each other to spur community transformation.
The hydroponics farm is one such initiative. Neighborhood youth will work in the hydroponics farms growing the store’s produce while learning entrepreneurial skills. The students will sell the farm’s excess produce at local farmer’s markets.
Sherman Park Grocery will also sell food products from Up Start Kitchen, a commercial kitchen that serves as a business incubator for food creators. The effort is to help expand Up Start’s food entrepreneurs’ business. Prism opened Up Start Kitchen which is located next door to the grocery store. Prism is the economic development arm of Parklawn Assembly of God. Wince sits on Prism’s board.
Wince said the store is a step above ordinary because it attempts to address myriad issues affecting the Black community, from health and housing to economic development.
The former day care building features sliding and rolling garage-like doors that open to the outside. It also has a concrete patio that can host live events, outdoor dining or a small farmers market.
Those amenities he said are rarely seen in establishments in Black communities but are found in businesses on Brady Street or in suburban communities like Wauwatosa. The idea, Wince said is to create an ambiance that invites the community in. He said residents can grab a hot meal, sit outside, and relax while grabbing a few grocery items.
“I wanted to send a message that we are not only in the community but you are welcomed into our business so we can build community together,” Wince said.
Not only does the couple want an establishment that’s modern with new fixtures and the latest technology, but also welcoming. Spears is parlaying years of retail experience into the new store’s operation. The focus is customer service, she said.
“We want people to come in here and feel welcome because some places that we go to – restaurants or stores – you don’t always get that,” Spears said. “We want to be not just in the community, but part of the community.”
Harvey, Prism’s president emeritus, is ecstatic about the store’s potential.
He grew up in Milwaukee and headed the Parklawn Assembly of God church on nearby Sherman Boulevard for 28 years, until he stepped down in March 2020.
Corner stores were staples in the community and often were considered communal gathering places.
“There has been an absence of that for at least two generations,” he said.
Harvey applauded Wince for restoring one of the foundations that made a neighborhood back.
“Most people use the slang the hood, but it’s really a neighborhood,” he said. “(Wince) is putting neighbor back into the hood.”
Prism grew out of the rioting in Sherman Park that followed the police shooting of Sylville Smith in 2016. Harvey had the vision to go outside the church to be a catalyst for development.
Up Start Kitchen is the first project to come from Prism’s mission. Wince and Spears have embraced that mission. They will turn a former bar into office space and a dance studio that teaches praise dancing. They also will open a much-needed laundromat in August.
“We are creating jobs and we are generating wealth,” Harvey said. “We are trying to keep the dollars circulating within the communities of color longer than that just a few hours before they leave and go to the big banks and out into the suburbs.
“We want to support businesses of color,” he added. “Poverty is a reality in many of our communities and economic development is the stone that will bring it down.”
La Risa Lynch is a community affairs reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Email her at [email protected].
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