When Maurice Spears and his wife Yashica Spears-Wince were forced to shutter their daycare operation at 4315 W. Fond du Lac Ave. during the pandemic, they started asking themselves how they might better use the space to serve the wider Sherman Park neighborhood.
Noticing there were already several childcare centers along Fond Du Lac Avenue, the couple learned about a request for proposals (RFP) for entities interested in utilizing a Fresh Food Access Grant through the City of Milwaukee.
The Spears applied for the grant, and “lo and behold” they received it, Maurice said.
Flash forward about four months, and the couple is on the cusp of opening Sherman Park Grocery, in a tightly stocked, 2,138-square-foot storefront near North Sherman Boulevard and West Fond du Lac Avenue.
Located in the heart of what had been one of the city’s worst food deserts, the store will carry fresh fruits, fresh and frozen meat, and a variety of dairy and deli meat products, and fresh and frozen vegetables. The business will also feature food products made by some of the food entrepreneurs at the nearby UpStart Kitchen as well as kale, herbs and other fresh greens grown by kids in the neighborhood. A hot foods deli named for Maurice’s mom Betty Jean will serve up soul food favorites.
The impulse to open the store, was also part of larger vision of the Spears church Embassy Center MKE (formerly Parklawn Assembly of God) and its head pastor Bishop Walter Harvey, Maurice said.
“After the riots we went out to clean up the neighborhood, and people said ‘you guys are from the church, we see you come and go, but we don’t feel your presence.’ That struck a nerve, so we spoke with the residents, and they said, 'we need jobs, we need healthcare, economic stability, housing, and ‘we definitely need your presence,’” Spears said.
Serving the community
Those conversations, which eventually led to the creation of PrismEDC, are also what really led the Spears to open the store.
“It's all a part of this economic ecosystem that we built,” said Spears, who grew up at the corner of Second and Wright streets. “This is about buying local and supporting local and keeping the African American dollar in the community for more than four hours. Our goal is to build community beyond the walls.”
In addition to the grant from the city’s Fresh Food Access Fund – an initiative led by 7th District Alderman Khalif J. Rainey – the effort has also received assistance from Embassy Center MKE, PrismEDC, Sunshine Dance Studio, and CommunityIMPACT Center. The grocery store is also receiving assistance from National Christian Foundation of Wisconsin to provide $50 food certificates to families who come up short at the checkout. The nonprofit will provide up certificates to 100 families each month, Maurice said.
“The first $25 has to be used for fresh fruits and vegetables, and the second $25 can be used for staples, like milk and cheese and frozen vegetables, etc,” Maurice said.
It’s a service that Spears — who remembers never having enough food to eat as one of 13 kids — is especially proud to offer.
The store hosted a pre-opening tour of the business last Friday that was attended by Mayor Cavalier Johnson, County Executive David Crowley, Alderman Rainey and a host of other local officials.
“Having a business like Sherman Park Grocery that can offer the freshest produce and foods while teaching families how to make healthy meals and lifestyle choices, will be a game changer in an area that has long been a food desert,” Rainey said. “This project is a shining example of what we can accomplish when the right people come to the table, and I want to thank all of the partners who helped make this a reality.”
The business will be providing delivery services to those not able to make it into the store, with delivery drivers willing to travel across Milwaukee and Waukesha counties, its website states.
“The grocery business is close to impossible to profitably manage. It's why our neighbors lack healthy food. Be part of the change & shop online,” states a plug for the service.
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