An Open Door at Your Store of the Queen City
Lower Price Hill is a close-knit community west of downtown Cincinnati. Community members know each other by name and many families have generational ties to the area. It’s this thread between neighbors that connects the loss of a beloved grocery store to wider conversations around food access and ultimately, the unique model of a community-based grocery store. The story behind Your Store of the Queen City, known as Meiser’s Fresh Grocery & Deli, is a story of community action, perseverance and food justice.
In 2017, the residents of Lower Price Hill learned that the only fresh grocery store in their neighborhood was closing after 50 years of operation. Meiser’s Parkview Market provided fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and cheeses to community members for decades. The store served not only as a source of fresh food but also as a social gathering spot – a true heart of the neighborhood.
Residents rely heavily on access to food that they can reach on foot. Close to 70% of the neighbors in Lower Price Hill don’t have access to a vehicle on a regular basis. Bus passes are $4 a day and can be cost-prohibiting for a neighborhood where 48% of residents rely on SNAP benefits and 72% have low incomes. This loss of Meiser’s was detrimental to community health. Reba Hennessey, director of Your Store of the Queen City, shared “That all started to contribute to the medical issues people were having as well as the stress that households were starting to feel. And there’s been a lot of studies around the impact of stress on child and maternal health outcomes and a lot of that is very closely linked to having food security or not.”
Price Hill Will, a nonprofit community development corporation, leveraged neighborhood support to bring city investment to the project. They acquired the building and began necessary repairs to keep the aging building functional. The organization and a neighborhood action team started a Request for Proposal process to locate a new grocer to occupy the store.
After seeing insufficient responses to the RFP, the community members and organizations involved in this process decided to get creative. They assembled a business plan in 2019 to create a community-led, nonprofit grocery store.
“The neighbors wanted to keep the family name of Meiser’s on the building,” said Hennessey. “What we designed was essentially a two-part grocery. The first part would be affordable foods where people can come and shop; the second part would be free food programs that didn’t just support people who qualified for government benefits, but supported all those people who were kind of falling through the cracks because they were, you know, $10 over.”
Neighbors founded Your Store of the Queen City as a nonprofit and opened the doors of Meiser’s Fresh Grocery & Deli in 2021. The store offers fresh food on a sliding scale with competitive pricing. They also have Meiser’s Green Giveaways to provide free produce and offer free daily hot meals. The vision for the store is led by community members and its employees all live in the neighborhood. There’s also a patio space where families gather for birthday parties, nonprofits meet and unhoused neighbors can relax, knowing they are safe.
As Your Store of the Queen City grows, so does the need in Lower Price Hill. In 2022, they distributed 6,000 meals. This year, according to Hennessey, 39,000 free meals worth of food were distributed.
A grant from the Boots on the Ground Fund – provided by Greater Cincinnati Foundation, in partnership with the City of Cincinnati, bi3 and Interact for Health – is making meaningful changes for Your Store of the Queen City.
“With Boots on the Ground, we were able to invest in training and appropriate compensation for our community-based team to take on additional duties and distributive leadership in the grocery operation,” Hennessey said. “With Boots on the Ground support, we were able to move our store associates into shift lead coordination and manager positions. This funding is changing the way that people plan and communicate and feel empowered around what food is in their local store. We are really interested to see longer term if there’s a public health impact that we can discern from the data that’s available.”
The ripple effect from the work at Your Store of the Queen City is also being felt beyond the boundaries of Lower Price Hill. The team has been co-learning and partnering with other food equity leaders including Queen Mother’s Market, Community Economic Advancement Initiatives, and others who are developing their own models for community-based grocery in Avondale, Walnut Hills and Bond Hill.
The vision for Your Store of the Queen City is one of longevity, increased capacity, and sustainability with community members fully in control of their own neighborhood stores and programs. Tangible, short-term needs include a van and increased cold storage that would allow the store to host a Community Supported Agriculture Program (CSA) and increase capacity for distributing free foods as the need continues to grow.
Learn more about Your Store of the Queen City at www.yourstoreqc.org. Additional funding from the Boots on the Ground Fund is available. The deadline to apply is January 18, 2024. For more information, please visit gcfdn.org/rfp.