Walkabout: Lawrenceville pair end up in the market to start new grocery

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Deirdre Kane was a steward in a community garden in Upper Lawrenceville when Dora Walmsley showed up to volunteer one day three years ago.

As they discussed the things that mattered to them, fresh food and their love of the neighborhood kept intertwining.

Earlier this year, a long-closed market at 601 52nd St. had a real estate sign and phone number on the boarded-up front. They talked about how good it would be for a market to reopen there.

"Deirdre said, 'We should open a market there together,' " said Ms. Walmsley, 27, who added with a carefree shrug, "I said, 'Sure!' "

The 52nd Street Market is scheduled to open in November. The two women have just launched an Indiegogo fundraising campaign.

Ms. Kane, 40, grew up in the neighborhood and remembers when it was called the Bloomfield Market, possibly named for an owner. It had been closed about seven years, she said.

It may have had windows long ago but it hasn't in her 40 years, she said. Contractor Mike Benedict will be installing large windows that open, and cafe tables are planned for the sidewalk.

"It looked crappy for so long," Ms. Kane said. "When he showed me the design of the windows, I got chills."

Mr. Benedict and his crew have been working on the interior and an upstairs apartment for rent and expect to finish in a few weeks.

"Every day people come by, and every single person is excited that this is happening," Mr. Benedict said.

The good vibe of Lawrenceville's overall vitality is spreading up Butler Street, but little storefronts like the ones that used to pepper every neighborhood's side streets are largely gone.

The neighborhood responded well to a survey that asked residents what food they buy most often, how much more they would pay for organic products and what special products they would want to buy there.

"We'll sell as much local and organic produce as we can," Ms. Kane said, adding that a surprising number of people requested that the store sell baked goods. "Turner's Iced Tea was one of the top requests."

They intend to stock the basics, many requested items, some prepared foods and a coffee bar.

PA Wealth Builders owns the property.

"Deirdre called me," said Jon Perry, CEO of PA Wealth Builders. "I met with them and was taken by how passionate they were about what they want to do. We were going to use the space for offices, but after meeting with them and talking to people in the neighborhood, we decided a corner market would be a better use of the space."

Most developers give new tenants what they call "a white box" from which to build out at their own expense, but PA Wealth Builders is footing the bill of the full renovation.

"I knew they needed some help, and that's what the neighborhood wanted," Mr. Perry said. "I wanted them to have an opportunity to be successful."

Ms. Kane said that without such largesse, she and Ms. Walmsley could never have tackled an entrepreneurship. The women have sought the advice of Rebecca Harris, director of the Center for Women's Entrepreneurship at Chatham University.

"One of the things we came to realize is that this is not the kind of thing we can afford to leave our careers for," said Ms. Kane, a production analyst at Highmark. Ms. Walmsley coordinates volunteers for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. They intend to remain in their day jobs and run the store using a manager.

As a garden volunteer, Ms. Walmsley said the passion she already had about food equity was stoked by the youth who help out in the gardens.

She said the new market could be "a vehicle" to keep youth interested in food production, although the produce from the gardens will not be sold in the store.

"At the McCandless [Street] Gardens, we have worked with a lot of families in and around it," Ms. Walmsley said. "We hope the market will provide an opportunity not only to engage youth through internships and job opportunities but be a welcoming space. We hope that the children feel it is their corner store, too."


Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at www.post-gazette.com/citywalk


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