By Sean P. Ray | Managing Editor
MANCHESTER — Lisa Freeman has big dreams for a small grocery store in Manchester, the construction of which started in mid-June.
Ground was broken on the future food market at 1426 Juniata St., and is expected to finish sometime in February of next year. Freeman, who is the founder of Freeman Family Farm also in Manchester, hopes the grocery store will address a great need for her community.
“Manchester, and the whole Northside, is a food desert,” she told The Chronicle in an interview.
A food desert, as defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), is a low-income area in which “at least 500 persons and/or at least 33% of the population lives more than 1 mile from a supermarket or large grocery store.”
It is a topic for which Freeman has a lot of concern. In addition to running Freeman Family Farm — which brings together community members to make local produce and even has chickens — Freeman is a member of the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council and was named to the Pennsylvania Farm Service Agency State Committee on March 17 earlier this year. She even gave testimony to the United States Congress on food issues relating to the Farm Bill on June 15.
Freeman said the impetus of her opening her own grocery store was the announcement of the Esplanade development by Piatt Companies. Esplanade is a planned development on 15 acres of former industrial sites in Chateau — which neighbors Manchester — which will include the construction of a Ferris wheel, a dock and house boats, and multiple apartments, condominiums and office space areas, among other features.
“I felt they were just building for tourists to come in,” Freeman said, furthering saying she felt “indignant” over the idea.
She wanted something for people already living in the area, and realized there hadn’t been a grocery store in the Manchester area.
Freeman applied for grant funding through the USDA, and received $175,000 from the agency in June of last year to get her grocery store idea off the ground. The funding was through the USDA’s Healthy Food Financing Initiative, which “helps bring grocery stores and other healthy food retailers to underserved urban and rural communities,” according to a press release from the department. Freeman’s money was part of a $970,000 release of grant funding through the initiative.
“I am humbled and I still am humbled,” Freeman said of being awarded the grant.
Since then, she has been able to pull in additional funding streams, and she is looking for local partners to help supply the future grocery store with food. Freeman plans to support Pittsburgh-area farmers, and is aiming for a wide selection of goods for sale, ranging from produce and egg products, to fresh salads, coffee and even a “grab and go” section with ready-made meals.
She also plans to host local guest chefs for outdoor bistro dinners from time to time.
Freeman did stress that the store, which is being built from the ground up, will be relatively small. The building will have 820 square feet, though it will feature outdoor seating and an outdoor greenhouse where the market will produce some of its own vegetables.
She has many plans for once the storefront is up and running, including online ordering and potentially a delivery service to accommodate customers who might have mobility issues. She also plans to hire people to work in the store, creating jobs in the process, though exact details are up in the air until the grocery store gets closer to completion.
As for the name, Freeman is still deciding on that, though she has a potential idea.
“I’m not really sure,” she said. “It might be Wally’s in memory of my late husband, Wally Sapp.”
For any business or organization interested in partnering with the grocery store once it is open, Freeman said she can be reached at (412) 290-9294.