A local merchant dedicated to promoting the availability of healthy, nutritious food in underserved areas of the city is hoping to have his second grocery store open by November in north Tulsa.
Scott Smith, owner of the Blue Jackalope at 306 S. Phoenix Ave. in the Crosbie Heights neighborhood just west of downtown, said his plans for his second market in the Northland Shopping Center on 36th St. N. just east of Cincinnati Ave. are proceeding. The site is owned by Neighbor for Neighbor, a nonprofit interfaith organization offering programs that assist the uninsured, unemployed, seniors, handicapped and impoverished.
Smith said last week he just received a note from the group's building committee requesting more information about his project, but he anticipated having a letter of intent signed with Neighbor for Neighbor within a week. After that, he said, it would take him another month to secure financing for the grocery store. Construction is expected to take only four to six weeks, he said.
"I think I could be open by November," he said.
The space is adjacent to the planned University of Oklahoma Wayman Tisdale Specialty Health Center, which is expected to be completed next year.
Smith has been a leader in the effort to eliminate food deserts -- areas where residents have little or no access to stores that sell fresh, healthy food -- which are considered a major factor in Oklahoma's poor rankings in terms of a number of healthy indicators, most notably obesity rates.
He recently observed his second anniversary at the Blue Jackalope, but his planned store at the Northland Shopping Center store would be a much larger and more ambitious venture, allowing it to fulfill more of the role of a traditional healthy corner store that offers fresh fruits, vegetables, breads and meats instead of foods loaded with fat, sodium and sugar.
Originally, Smith planned to lease approximately 5,100 square feet from Neighbor for Neighbor, but now he said he has a proposal before the organization that would allow him to lease 7,200 square feet and offer more services than he first envisioned. The store will be five to seven times the size of the Blue Jackalope and will serve food.
Another space adjacent to the planned market could be used as an incubator for a start-up restaurant, Smith believes. With that thought in mind, he has proposed to Neighbor for Neighbor that a wall be knocked out between the two sites so they could share a kitchen and offer complementary hours and menus.
Even as he scrambles to get his second location open, Smith continues to lobby for the spread of stores like his. He recently attended a conference at Kansas State University dealing with the problems of rural grocery stores, as well as a conference at Oklahoma State University that addressed the issue of creating a distribution network designed to get more local agriculture products into local markets.
"Things are really looking cool," he said.
Since Smith opened the Blue Jackalope, two other grocery stores have opened in underserved areas of Tulsa, including the Gateway Market, a supermarket at Pine St. and Peoria Ave., and the Westside Harvest Market, a new grocery that opened at 2232 S. Nogales Ave. earlier this year to serve west Tulsans. That market is operated by the United Methodist Church and Global Gardens.
Another corner market is planned for the area just north of downtown. Justin and Leah Pickard had hoped to have their planned Latimer Store open in Brady Heights by this summer, but Justin Pickard said last week he is still securing financing for the project and has been unable to move forward.
Legislation aimed at providing capital for those interested in opening such stores was passed earlier this year by the state Legislature. Rep. Seneca Scott, D-Tulsa, authored House Bill 3015, which would make healthy corner stores eligible for low-interest loans of up to $350,000.
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