New market in an old space
Local volunteers team up to bring back the Clifton neighborhood grocery
Story Karly Dwenger
March 9, 2017
It’s hard not to notice the change of pace on Ludlow Avenue. Walking down the historic street, the building at 319 Ludlow Ave. gives off a ’50s grocery store vibe, but looking through the windows you can see the modern interior of the newly renovated Clifton Market, which opened in January.
The space had been empty since 2011 when the former Keller’s IGA closed its doors, leaving the Clifton Gaslight area without a neighborhood grocery. The idea for a replacement first started brewing back in August 2013 when a group of residents met to bring back the neighborhood grocery.
“We were talking about how to put the grocery back into the grocery store,” said Marilyn Hyland, the market’s director of marketing.
About 20 people showed up to the very first meeting — eight of those became the founding board of directors, including Hyland.
"The idea of community ownership is very important,” said board member Robert Krikorian, a UC professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience and Clifton resident. “That quickly developed in our meetings as an important notion.”
Other national chains such as Kroger and Whole Foods declined invitations to look at the space. The group worried that even if a national chain did buy the building, it could decide it either wasn’t profitable enough and leave or become too profitable and want to sell.
Launching the Clifton Market didn’t come without its challenges. Citing concern for its lack of experience, Cincinnati city officials denied the market team a $550,000 city loan and later a $400,000 grant to begin building. Although a majority of the city council members supported the grant, Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley eventually vetoed it in June 2015.
The dedicated team didn’t let the financial obstacles stop them. They continued to raise donations and investments from the community for the cooperative store by engaging residents and local business owners via promotions on social media and community events.
Attempts to rally community support for the nearly $6 million project paid off — allowing the market to generate enough money not only to buy the building, but obtain financing and a property tax break through the city.
Currently there are more than 1,700 Clifton Market owners who purchased $200 shares in the business. Owners are able to pay in installments of $25 every three months over two years.
Anyone has the opportunity to become an owner, and while a majority of the current shareholders are Clifton residents, the market has generated support from across Ohio and as far as New Zealand.
Each share includes a number of benefits for the shareholder, including special discounts, first access to events and in-house classes and the ability to run and vote for the board of directors.
The purpose of the cooperative is not to generate individual profit for each owner, but to help the store stay financially stable. In return, the market is able to reinvest in the community by donating food to local pantries, supporting local events, offering jobs, holding nutrition education classes and supporting local food producers.
A little more than a month after opening, the store has already generated more business along Ludlow Ave., which business owners say they welcome.
“It’s projected that once we get rolling, we will bring in around 15,000 people to the area a week,” said Hyland.
“We have really transformed the neighborhood,” said Tony Kahn, one of the supervisors at Clifton Market. “I live right down the street, and I have seen a big change in the neighborhood.”
The market is not only proving to benefit the community surrounding Ludlow, but the UC community as well. The store currently employs 81 people, including a number of students from the university as well as UC alumni and students from nearby Hughes High School.
Kahn decided to apply after graduating UC with degree in electronic media.
“I thought it would be a great opportunity for some management experience,” he said.
UC professor Krikorian hopes to combine his research, which includes Alzheimer’s prevention through nutrition, with the market.
“Fundamentally, we are here to serve our community,” said Krikorian. “The well-being of the community is very important to us.”
The market has recently begun a partnership with TriHealth’s Good Samaritan Hospital to offer approved healthy lunch and dinner choices.
“We’re going to be a very unique grocery store because we are going to have outreach events in the community to enhance health,” Krikorian explained. “I believe nutrition education is extremely important for parents and their children so that people learn about the basics of what’s good to eat and what to avoid.”
The board has begun discussing launching the Clifton Market Foundation, whose goal would be to inspire health and nutrition awareness and efforts in the community. The market plans to hold targeted health lectures and discussions on other topics.
“We have amazing resources available,” said Hyland. “Just the TriHealth connection is huge, and then having the university with all kinds of experts in their field.”
The Clifton Market will celebrate its third anniversary as a co-op March 17-20. The community is invited to come out and enjoy. The celebration will kick off on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, with Irish beer, beer tastings and Irish food.
“We invite everyone who has fond memories of shopping at Keller’s to come shop with us,” said Hyland. “Come experience the new space.”