GRAND RAPIDS — When the coronavirus pandemic hit, a pair of Grand Rapids natives scrapped their initial plans to open a cigar lounge on the city’s south side, deciding instead that a fresh food market and weekly farmers market would be a better resource for their neighborhood.
Erica Tyler and her brother, Dalshawn Tyler, are in the process of opening Southtown Market at 821 Oakdale St. SE in Grand Rapids. The building has been owned for nearly 20 years by their grandmother, Mary McGhee, and currently houses Hi-Tech Hair Designs salon. Before that, it served as a daycare.
“The south side of town is looked over a lot and not a place where you can get fresh fruits and vegetables,” Erica Tyler said. “A lot of people don’t have vehicles and it would be easier for people to get here” to buy food.
Because the business plan recently changed from a lounge to a market, the Tylers are in the design phase and still working to secure an architect. But they have a concrete vision to use the space to uplift their community. The business partners said it was important for them to open the market in their own neighborhood and to give community members a place to shop with people they know.
The goal is to open the market sometime in 2021 and carry fresh produce, meat, seafood and eventually wine. The business partners envision something similar to the Grand Rapids Downtown Market on a smaller scale.
“We want to create an experience,” Dalshawn Tyler said. “We would like to have a little band with nice mellow music and a nice vibe for when people are shopping.”
The Tylers are organizing a weekly farmers market outside of the building every weekend this summer, starting Aug. 15. Funds secured from renting tables to local vendors will go toward renovating the salon into Southtown Market. The plan is to shut down the street for the first weekend of the market event, and then have vendors set up on a grass lot across the street for future market events.
“We had the idea to create a space for entrepreneurs to be able to come out every weekend to get exposure and just create that entrepreneurial space,” Erica Tyler said. “There is nothing like that on this side of town.”
The weekly farmers market is planned to run through the end of September or early October, Erica Tyler said. Part of the goal is to get people accustomed to coming to the space when the market opens, as well as lifting up other local entrepreneurs. To that end, the Tylers are working to bring a business consultant to the market event to help people start their own companies.
“So many of us don’t have that platform or direction,” Erica Tyler said. “We feel like that just trickles down into the next generation and so forth. We want to provide that space where we can grow as entrepreneurs.”
Even after Southtown Market opens, the Tylers hope to continue holding the farmers market to serve as an important resource for the area, Dalshawn Tyler said.
“On a personal level, growing up here, this area is riddled with crime and firsthand I know a lot of the young African American kids don’t go to college or leave Grand Rapids and are left with few options,” he said. “I just look at some of these younger kids and if they were to see someone doing something different, then maybe that could change their mindset.”