“This will deliver not only affordable but healthy food to the community,” said Steve McLaughlin, Rensselaer County Executive, “We’re proud to work in partnership with business and government to help make this happen. This is really a store for everyone -- all walks of life. It will be a beautiful space, where everyone can shop for food with dignity.”
Bargain Grocery opened its first brick-and-mortar store in Utica in 2018, backed by Compassion Coalition, a nonprofit organization founded in 2002 which donates more than $20 million in goods each year to the Utica community.
“I see a lot of synergies that can be created with other programs and organizations in Troy, so we welcome Bargain Grocery and look forward to helping all our citizens access healthy low cost food,” Monica Kurzejeski, Troy’s Deputy Mayor.
The prices are exceptionally low due to Bargain Grocery’s strategic purchasing and there will be additional, discreet financial assistance to those in need.
“This part of Troy, where we will be opening, could be considered a ‘food desert’ so it really fits our mission,” said Mike Servello, Bargain Grocery founder. “Residents of under-resourced neighborhoods don’t have access to the same health food, the same deals that others have. Larger grocers don’t typically go into areas like this, so we’re partnering with other community leaders to do something about this critical problem.”
Food deserts are defined as low-income areas where residents have limited access to affordable, high-quality foods. The North Central neighborhood is in a census district where at least 33 percent of residents live more than a half-mile from a grocery store. North Central is also a low-vehicle access area, meaning more than 100 households have no access to a vehicle and live more than a half-mile from the nearest supermarket.
The planned location for the store is 558 River Street, across the street from Flanigan Square, located near the intersections of NYS Route 7 (Hoosick Street) and US Rte 4 (River Street), it is easily accessible by car, with ample off-street parking, and is located on multiple CDTA bus lines. The historic brick building most recently housed Smith’s Beauty Supply Co. and is two stories tall, with large arched windows and 20,000 square feet of space that will be rehabilitated to include community prep kitchen space and an upstairs café.
The neighborhood has a 43 percent poverty rate, similar to the area around Bargain Grocery's original Utica store. The poverty rate for all of Troy is 24.4 percent, much higher than the overall percentage for New York state, which is 13 percent.
A 2015 study by the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) found that customers could purchase 30 percent more product at Bargain Grocery than if they had shopped at a large grocery chain with the same amount of money.
The store buys fresh food at a discount — either because the food is overproduced, or because the food doesn’t meet certain superficial standards, such as aesthetics or packaging issues. For example, potatoes that do not meet certain size metrics may be discarded by grocery stores, Servello explained.
“It’s excellent food,” said Servello of the products sold at Bargain Grocery. “There is so much waste in our food system, it can really make your head spin. Let’s rethink this whole deal with food and waste and let’s make sure everyone is able to shop with dignity.”
Since Bargain Grocery acquires food at a discount, it is able to sell that food at lower prices. The outfit works with a variety of partners to ensure a wide choice for their shoppers. The profits from Bargain Grocery in Utica have not only funded community giveaways of food, but also mattresses, clothes and other household and essential goods—a model the organization plans to replicate in Troy.
“We want people in the community to advise us as to what is most needed,” said Ryan Barone, board chairman of Compassion Coalition. “We will put together a board of local Troy community leaders because they know the community, they know the needs.”
Barone notes that Bargain Grocery is community-minded in all aspects of operation and hires workers from the surrounding neighborhoods who face barriers to employment, including refugees, people with disabilities, and those who have overcome addiction issues. The store also offers cooking and nutrition classes taught by local volunteers.
“The biggest amenity missing from this neighborhood, and the adjacent downtown area, is a complete grocery store,” said Kevin Bette, CEO of First Columbia, a regional developer that is in the process of redeveloping multiple properties in the surrounding "Waterfront District" of Troy. “In our search with the City and County to find a grocery store willing to establish itself here, we think Bargain Grocery is a perfect fit.”
Although Downtown Troy has been undergoing what some refer to as a rebirth, Bette said that much more needs to be done, especially for those living north of Hoosick Street. Bargain Grocery will attract more housing rehabilitation and the addition of more services to the surrounding neighborhood. It will be easily accessed by multiple modes of transit and will unite the Community.
Bette is helping Bargain Grocery locate business investors and community stakeholders for a steering committee and to serve in several roles, including corporate sponsors, board members, and volunteers. Bargain Grocery is also eager to work with local nonprofits that assist underserved communities. Anyone interested in learning more about how to participate in the effort to establish Bargain Grocery in Troy is invited to contact LeeAnne Milnarik by email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The project appeared before the Troy Planning Commission at its Aug. 18 meeting for conceptual review, which was approved. The project will appear before the Commission again in one month to review further details.
For information about Bargain Grocery, visit: https://www.bargaingrocery.com. For information about Compassion Coalition, visit: https://www.distributehope.org