If there is one thing that residents of the Bryant neighborhood agree on, it's this: They sure could use a grocery store.
In south Minneapolis just east of Interstate 35W, the Bryant neighborhood is designated a food desert -- a low-income community without a large grocery store within one mile.
The Seward Co-op in Minneapolis has announced plans to open a second store in the Bryant neighborhood and has signed a purchase agreement with a church for its property. The co-op still needs financing and city permission to use the site. If all goes as planned, the Bryant area co-op, at East 38th Street and Clinton Avenue South, would open within two years.
To help sell residents on the idea, Mike Stebnitz recently walked from house to house, talking to anyone who would listen. Stebnitz, a developer who lives in the nearby Central neighborhood, co-founded a group called the Carrot Initiative that aims to bring a grocery store to the area so residents will not have to go elsewhere.
"Those are really long trips for people," Stebnitz said. "You can imagine, doing that in the winter on a bus with several transfers, lugging groceries, particularly with kids in tow. It's a real challenge."
After other failed attempts in the past to lure a grocery store, many Bryant area residents would welcome one.
"We don't have any grocery stores in the neighborhood, and we have to shop at the corner stores [that are] overpriced and don't have what we need," said Crystal Lerma, a married mother of four.
In the neighborhood, opinions about the proposal vary. Some people are thrilled that a co-op might open nearby. But others worry that many neighbors would not be able to afford to shop in a co-op.
"My gut reaction was: What the hell? It made no sense to me," said Marjaan Sirdar, a member of At the Roots Minneapolis, a group of neighborhood activists. "I began to question, who are they really building this store for?"
Sirdar worries the store will land in his neighborhood, a historically African-American area where about 40 percent of people live in poverty, and cater to wealthier, white shoppers from surrounding neighborhoods.
"I'm not against the idea of a co-op," he said. "I'm against the idea of a co-op coming to this neighborhood that's not accessible to people who live here."
Ernestine Gates, who has lived in the neighborhood for 54 years, did not think she could afford to shop there.
"I scuffle hard to try to live day by day," said Gates, who receives Social Security. "My medication is so high ... Oh no, I can't afford it."
Gates is excited, however, about the 100 living-wage jobs the Seward Co-op predicts it would bring to the area. But she echoed other neighborhood residents who worried that the co-op will not involve them in decisions about the store.
"What good is it to call it a community co-op if this community is not going to have any input other than to spend down the few dollars we can rack up?" Gates asked.
At the Seward Co-op on East Franklin Avenue, general manager Sean Doyle has heard these concerns. Doyle said the co-op in the diverse, mixed-income neighborhood is at capacity in its current location -- and chose the new spot because 15 percent of its members live within two miles of the new site. He said co-ops strive to involve the community.
After all, he said, members own the co-op and receive a share of profits at year's end. The Seward Co-op held a community meeting July 9 in the Bryant neighborhood and plans to further engage residents in the coming months.
But Doyle conceded that food at a co-op can be pricier than items at a large supermarket like Cub or Rainbow, which have more buying power. He said co-ops also aim to serve different objectives.
"In many regards it is more expensive, because when it comes to things like fair trade, the cost of coffee is more expensive if we're paying the people who are growing the coffee a living wage," he said.
Besides a commitment to fair wages, the co-op also features natural and organic foods, and it seeks food produced without harm to the environment. Doyle said all that comes at a cost.
Still, Doyle said, many food items -- in the bulk section, for example -- are affordable.
"A person who's coming in on a very tight budget can still buy core ingredient food items, and they're not that different in price," he said. "There is the ability to shop on a limited budget, and many people do it."
The Seward Co-op accepts food stamps. It offers a discounted membership - and a 5 percent shopping discount -- for those who demonstrate need. It also has classes for people looking to shop on a budget.
At a block party in the Bryant area, 88-year-old Thelma Hinkle predicted that if the co-op comes, she and many of her neighbors who can afford to probably will shop there. She said others likely would, too, even if they couldn't buy as much.
"I would shop there, to try to make it go, if I'm still around," Hinkle said, "because it's going to take a couple of years to get it built, right?"