The building at 4315 W. Fond du Lac Ave. was in its fourth incarnation as a daycare center when the coronavirus pandemic forced it to close.
The owner of the property wondered what to put in its place.
“Another daycare just wasn’t for us,” said Maurice “Moe” Wince, a real estate developer who owns the property with his wife, Yashica Spears. “We kind of prayed over it a bit.”
The answer was right in front of them. Almost every morning, Wince would watch neighborhood kids go to two gas stations on the corner of Fond du Lac and Sherman Boulevard to buy Flaming Hots, juice boxes and Twinkies for breakfast.
“Nothing healthy,” Wince said. “None of this fits into the five food groups for a healthy diet.”
This 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 Fresh Food Access Fund, Wince and Spears will open the Sherman Park grocery store in this 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.”
This commitment ensures Sherman Park residents have access to fresh fruits and vegetables. The area, he said, is in a food desert with the nearest full grocery store about two miles away.
Getting there can be a challenge in a neighborhood where 22% of residents live below the poverty line and 20% don’t have access to a vehicle, according to research by Data You Can Use.
Without immediate access to healthy food, 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 quantity or quality based on affordability, Wince said. He remembers as a child //having to go grocery shopping with her mother and being unable to buy everything on her grocery list.
“Growing up with eight sisters and three boys…there was always a shortage. Seven times out of ten, mom would be at the checkout and say, “Take that off. How much does it cost now? »
Wince has partnered with two local nonprofits to support his Feed My Sheep ministry, which will provide $50 gift cards to families who run out of cash. Half of the money, he said, should be spent on fresh fruits and vegetables, while the rest should be used for other staples, such as dairy products.
“We’re not going to go broke and give away the kitchen sink, but we’re going to make sure there’s food on your table,” Wince said.
Shelves in the 2,180-square-foot store will be stocked with canned goods, packaged fresh meats, and cleaning and laundry products. Some of its fresh produce will come from a hydroponics system located above the store.
Wince has converted one of two second-floor apartments to house the hydroponic farm, which consists of 10 vertically growing pods. Each pod can generate up to 25 pounds of produce, such as kale, mustard, collard greens, or leaf lettuce. The pods can also be used to grow basil, cilantro and other culinary herbs.
The store also offers a hot deli, serving up healthy versions of soul food. Wince plans to employ 15 neighborhood residents and offer other services, such as check cashing and utility bill payment. 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 a process to create a socio-economic ecosystem on Avenue Fond du Lac. This ecosystem is the brainchild of Bishop Walter Harvey, former president of Prism Economic Development Corp. The idea behind the ecosystem is for businesses along this artery to work together to nurture, grow and support each other to drive community transformation.
The hydroponic farm is one such initiative. Neighborhood youth will work on hydroponic farms to grow the store’s produce while learning entrepreneurial skills. Students will sell surplus produce from the farm at local farmers’ markets.
Sherman Park Grocery will also sell food products from Up Start Kitchen, a commercial kitchen that serves as a business incubator for food makers. The effort is to help grow the business of Up Start food entrepreneurs. Prism opened Up Start Kitchen which is located next to the grocery store. Prism is the economic development arm of Parklawn Assembly of God. Wince sits on the board of Prism.
Wince said the store is a step above the ordinary as it attempts to address a myriad of issues affecting the black community, from health and housing to economic development.
The old daycare building has garage-like sliding and rolling doors that open to the outside. It also has a concrete patio that can accommodate live events, outdoor dining, or a small farmers’ market.
Such 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 community. He said residents could grab a hot meal, sit outside and relax while picking up some groceries.
“I wanted to send a message that we’re not just in the community, but that you’re welcome to our company so we can build community together,” Wince said.
The couple not only want a modern establishment with new equipment and the latest technology, but also a welcoming one. Spears is leveraging her years of retail experience in operating the new store. The focus is on customer service, she says.
“We want people to come here and feel welcome because some places we go — restaurants or stores — you don’t always get that,” Spears said. “We want to not just be in the community, but be part of the community.”
Harvey, president emeritus of Prism, is excited about the store’s potential.
He grew up in Milwaukee and led Parklawn Assembly of God Church on nearby Sherman Boulevard for 28 years, until stepping down in March 2020.
Convenience stores were staples in the community and were often seen as community 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 brought a neighborhood back to life.
“Most people use hood slang, but it’s really a neighborhood,” he said. “(Wince) puts the neighbor back in the hood.”
Prism was born out of the Sherman Park riots that followed the police shooting of Sylville Smith in 2016. Harvey had a vision to come out of the church to be a catalyst for development.
Up Start Kitchen is the first project to come out of Prism’s mission. Wince and Spears have embraced this mission. They will transform an old bar into offices and a dance studio that teaches worship dancing. They will also open a much-needed laundromat in August.
“We are creating jobs and we are generating wealth,” Harvey said. “We’re trying to keep the dollars circulating in communities of color longer than that, just hours before they leave and go to the big banks and 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 cornerstone that will reduce it.
La Risa Lynch is a community affairs reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Email him at [email protected]
After:A vacant school in the Sherman Park neighborhood of Milwaukee is to be converted into a large daycare center designed to reduce the waiting list
After:Riverwest Co-op closes its cafe and the grocery store is open but in jeopardy