The grocery-starved central Denver neighborhood of Sun Valley received a boon on November 2 with the opening of Decatur Fresh Market at 995 Decatur Street, a sign of the growth to come for the area.
Sun Valley, which has more than 300 units of Denver Housing Authority (DHA) residences, is home to around 2,000 residents who speak about thirty different languages; many are from Vietnam, Somalia and Ethiopia. The nearest standard grocery store is two miles away, at 14th Avenue and Speer Boulevard, but even that King Soopers doesn’t serve the needs of this diverse community. Most of DHA’s housing residents will trek to shops on Federal Avenue and in Aurora to find items at international markets needed to make recipes from their home countries, and many have to do so using public transit.
Shaina Burkett, a program manager at DHA, is familiar with residents' grocery treks. To prepare for Decatur Market’s opening, DHA not only surveyed residents, but also went shopping with them to learn more about their shopping habits and staple foods. With the knowledge gained on these trips, the market will carry international ingredients and spices alongside standard household items, produce, snacks and pantry items.
Burkett has been visiting with residents and taking the short walk to Decatur Market with them since it opened. She’s shopping with them to better understand what’s missing so she can help direct the market's stock. While not every request can be accommodated, interim director of community connections for DHA Annie Hancock and store manager Rick Stollsteimer are working hard to bring in as much as possible. “We’re at the stage right now that we want everyone to come in and tell us what we’re missing,” says Hancock, interim director of community connections for DHA. One such item is green bananas, requested by a resident one day and stocked the next.
Dazbog Coffee — its home office is only a half-mile away. The home goods area includes pet food and baby supplies, plus a special for residents who are moving into the DHA housing; they can grab a laundry basket and fill it with six items for $10. There are refrigerators with cold items, and by December, the market should have freezers so that meat can be sold.
Most of the shelves look full, but there is room to add more. Although some international items are more difficult to come by, Decatur Market staff are determined to supply what they can at a reasonable cost.
The market's staffing model helps keep costs low. It's run by DHA's Youth Employment Academy (YEA), which trains and provides paid internships to 14- to 24-year-olds, which means the market can supplement overhead operational costs with grants. The market will employ youth interns in the YEA program along with full- and part-time staff, which includes residents of DHA’s housing. Another adult workforce development program, Academies to Work, will supply additional interns.
Stollsteimer worked in the grocery industry for thirty years and has been with DHA for five. He previously helped run another small grocer in the Cole neighborhood, Downing Super, which recently closed. “I feel like everyone that has walked through the door has said they’ve been waiting a long time for this,” he notes. “The look on people’s faces when they walk into this beautiful place, it’s fun and exciting to see.”
Along with hiring local talent and serving local coffee, Decatur Market will serve grab-and-go sandwiches and burritos from DHA’s Osage Cafe. In a commissary kitchen a few blocks away, residents of DHA housing will be able to make bulk soups to sell there as well. For the holidays, shelves of crafts made by residents will be available for consignment.
Decatur Market is a small part of a larger strategic plan for DHA and the Sun Valley neighborhood. In the next four years, DHA plans to complete 960 units in the neighborhood, all of which will be below market rate, and 80 percent of which will be affordable housing. The agency anticipates that another 500 to 800 will be built through partnerships with developers, creating a large residential community in a place that, at the moment, is cut off from the city by freight train tracks, RTD tracks, the South Platte River and an industrial area. There is also an effort to realign Sun Valley’s streets to connect with Denver’s grid. “This will start to feel like the rest of Denver,” says Hancock, referring to access.
The building that houses the market, Gateway South, is an example of that growth. Along with the Gateway North building, it's new, and residents began moving in in April. There are a combined 187 units, ranging from one to five bedrooms each. That land previously held only 58 DHA units. The residents who were displaced during the construction were aided in their move by DHA, which provided support for them to find temporary housing and to return to Sun Valley. Now, they are the ones taking advantage of the $10 laundry basket household goods deal at the market as they move into the new residences. In the next few years, there are likely to be a lot of residents moving out and back as DHA builds — and Decatur Market will adjust and grow along with its neighbors. “It’s always going to be evolving,” says Hancock.
Decatur Market is located at 995 Decatur Street and is open 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. For more information, visit decaturfresh.com.