On a recent Wednesday morning, Capt. Eric Randall of the Newport News Police Department walked into a supermarket. Instead of going to the produce section or the frozen food aisle, he turned into a conference room to buy coffee and talk with families about concerns in the community.
The event was the first monthly “Coffee with a Cop” event at Jim’s Local Market, an opportunity for people to mingle with law enforcement and talk. Owner Jim Scarlon is following the model of markets around the world, including others in Hampton Roads, which are seeing supermarkets as community centers. For example, Newport News Whole Foods holds weekly “Family and Friends Game Days,” pasta nights, and Meatless Mondays for the community.
Since opening in May, Jim’s not only hosts customers, but it has hosted health screenings, voter registration drives and financial literacy classes. Although the market stocks products from red wine to jumbo shrimp, its venue is smaller than most Krogers and Kmarts, which Scarlon sees as a benefit.
“You can listen to the neighborhood and say, “What do you need?”” Scarlon said.
Giving shoppers (and farmers) a seat at the table
The Five Points Community Farm Market in Norfolk is a veteran of the farm-market business, having built its market in 2002. It has a goal of supporting the community including small business owners, such as by buying its produce from local farmers at “fair market wholesale prices” that can benefit the farmers and the consumers, said Bev Sell, spokesperson for the market.
“We’re trying to be fair,” she said.
Food chains such as Whole Foods and Harris Teeter also included produce from local farmers.
Five Points hosts weekly open mics with poetry readings and musical performances while people shop. A few mornings each week it allows the Norfolk Chapter of the League of Women Voters to meet before the market opens, and it hosts an annual Sustainable Living Fair eto teach families how to live healthier lives and preserve the environment.
“People are realizing,” Sell said, “that you are what you eat.”
Jim’s Market also solves the same problem Sell says existed before Five Points was built off of 26th Street — both areas lacked access to a reliable source of produce.
“When you look at the areas that do not have food access,” Scarlon said, “the absence of a chain store is there.”
Carol Meredith, spokeswoman for the city of Newport News, said that southeastern Newport News did not have a market after Fresh Pride closed in 2013.
“We had for a number of years a difficult time getting produce.” Meredith said. The city developed Jim’s Local Market as an oasis for the food desert that was left in Fresh Pride’s wake, Meredith said.
Scarlon said city developed the land and investors partnered with Scarlon, who was chosen because of his leadership experience with other grocery chains in Richmond. The Newport News market is Scarlon’s first store. He and his employees, which are hired from the surrounding neighborhoods, are constantly in the aisles getting feedback from customers. He plans to open forums in the community room where he’ll receive suggestions on the store ranging from its activity lineup to its decoration.
Next month, instead of having coffee with Randall, Scarlon has a more family-friendly idea.
He said, “We’d like to do ice cream with a cop next.”