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ANDERSON — Sometime in March, the Gem City Market, a food co-op in Dayton, will open to the public, bringing to fruition a five-year process.

Lela Klein, a board member, said planning for Gem City started in 2016 with the development of a business plan and they incorporated in 2017.

Gem City Market constructed a 16,000-square-foot facility that will include a kitchen classroom, a health clinic and a meeting room.

“It’s a slow process,” Klein said of opening Gem City. “You have to develop community trust. We surveyed 1,200 people to determine if the location and product selection would work.”

Including the cost of the new facility, it has been a $7 million project, Klein said.

“Once we open we’re hoping to generate $3 million, or about $60,000 per week in the first year,” she said. “We hope to be profitable after four years.”

Klein said Gem City Market has 3,000 members that paid a $100 membership fee with 2,000 of the members residing in Dayton, a city of 141,000 according to the 2019 census.

A $10 membership will be available to public receiving public assistance.

She said Gem City was able to raise $2.5 million from local and national foundations.

Gem City also received assistance from local governmental units including: $225,000 from the city of Dayton; $175,000 from Montgomery County; $200,000 from the state of Ohio; and $100,000 from the local housing authority through U.S. Housing & Urban Development funds.

“We’re locating in a food desert,” Klein said. “The Kroger stored closed in 2009 and leaving an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 people living a couple of miles from a grocery store.

“Now people have to shop at a dollar store or ride a bus 45 minutes to get to a grocery store,” she said. “Since we started three more grocery stores closed in the area. This is an economically depressed area.”

She said Dayton officials tried to get another grocery store chain to locate in the area.

“The traditional stores don’t want to be in an urban corridor,” Klein said.

Gem City Market decided it was more cost effective to purchase products from Associated Wholesale Grocers out of Nashville, Klein said.

“Our goal is to support the local economy,” she said. “We are working with farmers and groups of farmers and hope to get 15% to 20% from the local area.”

Gem City has hired a general manager with experience in the grocery business and will have a paid staff of 27.

Her advise to the Anderson group hoping to open a co-op grocery is to get buy-in from the community.

“There are groups all over the country trying to open co-ops,” Klein said. “It’s a national movement. Co-op stores are having a higher rate of success.”

Follow Ken de la Bastide

on Twitter @KendelaBastide,

or call 765-640-4863.

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Senior Reporter covering Anderson and Madison County government, politics and auto racing for The Herald Bulletin. Has been working as a journalist in central Indiana since 1977.