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‘Good for the community’: Special grocery store opens in northern Las Vegas

Seven years ago, a Walmart in the Sunrise Manor neighborhood of northeast Las Vegas closed, leaving the area without a full-fledged grocery store.

Until now.

The After Market opened June 13 and operates as both a grocery store and a food pantry for people to pick up necessities. The store, which is owned and operated by the Foundation Christian Center, is located in the shadow of the closed Walmart near the intersection of Craig Road and Las Vegas Boulevard.

The area has plenty of empty lots, fast food chains and smaller strip malls and almost feels forgotten in the wide expanse of the Las Vegas Valley, according to the store’s CEO, DeWayne McCoy, who is also the head pastor of the Foundation Christian Center.

“But that’s not true,” McCoy said. “It’s an oasis within itself, an oasis of opportunity itself for people with a mindset to come here and create something that’s good for the community.”

Filling the void

McCoy said he has 20-plus years of experience working in grocery stores and food warehouses and recently spent seven years as warehouse manager for Three Square Food Bank. He envisions that The After Market can help address the food desert problem in Las Vegas and food insecurity in the area.

Food deserts are areas that don’t have a supermarket or large grocery stores within one mile of populated urban areas, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A 2020 UNLV report said there are 40 food deserts in Nevada, 16 in Clark County and 10 scattered around the Las Vegas area.

“The question was, how do we fill the void of a grocery store and the void of people not having enough benefits to get through the month, in one place?” McCoy said. “Hence we built The After Market.”

The last large grocery store in the area was Walmart, which closed in 2016 amid a wave of national closures for the retail chain. It cited pressures to its revenue levels as the reason for the closures. Seven years later, the building remains empty, and remnants of the Walmart sign can still be seen.

“Grocery stores are for-profit businesses, and if they perceive that their profits aren’t high enough, in certain areas, then they’re going to close or potentially relocate,” said Courtney Coughenour, a professor at UNLV’s School of Community Health Sciences.

Coughenour studies community design and its effects on health. She said that people living in food deserts often experience worse health outcomes than those who live close to grocery stores with high-quality products.

“People who live in food deserts tend to consume fewer fruits and vegetables, consume higher fats and more sugar,” she said. “That’s probably just a product of what people have access to.”

The After Market has about 4,000 square feet of space for its grocery floor, which is smaller than most stores. But it holds the basics for grocery stores including fresh produce, meat, canned and boxed goods as well as some indulgences such as candy bars.

McCoy said that they wanted to include a “variety of everything” and that it gets its food from donations and food distributors.

The prices at The After Market are comparable to other grocery stores although McCoy acknowledged some prices may be higher than those offered at supermarkets that can run more discounts. But he is confident other benefits provided by the location — such as shorter commute times and the pantry option that can supplement store purchases — will entice locals to the store.

“Even if some of our prices are a little higher than other stores, by the time you drive the five, six miles to get there, you spent more than you would have saved at the store,” McCoy said.

Sisters Nicole Farmer and Kelly Dye were shopping at The After Market for the first time recently and got a mixture of pantry and grocery items. Both were impressed by the store and the ease that it was to sign up for the pantry benefits.

“It was easier than other pantries where you have to provide a lot more documentation,” Farmer said. “Here they are more friendly and trusting.”

They also think the store can provide a better resource for people living in the area.

“The closest grocery store feels like five, six miles away, and it would be terrible to take a bus or walk in this heat,” Dye said.

Andy Nowak is a retiree who lives near The After Market. He described it as a “very helpful” way to get groceries because it’s able to handle the benefits he gets from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. He also noted it’s easier to get to than other stores, and he estimates he will go to The After Market at least once a week.

Community focus

The store isn’t limiting its funding solely on revenue earned from sales. McCoy said it will look for grants where appropriate and take donations to help its operations.

“The No. 1 goal for The After Market was to take care of the community,” he said. “But the other goal was to create a place that could sustain itself during the time that there are no grants, during the time that there are no people giving.”

The difficulties of making sure there is quality food have been known by the Foundation Christian Center as it already had been hosting monthly food drives to hand out supplies to those in need. McCoy estimated that demand for those food drives increased by 20-30 percent in the months preceding The After Market opening.

That is in line with a spike in demand for food aid seen by Three Square. The food bank has seen an increase of 26 percent in demand for its services from January through May compared with the same period in 2022, according to Beth Martino, the CEO of Three Square.

“It’s probably attributable to a number of factors,” Martino said. “Inflation is still playing a role. There are changes in (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits. … We’ve seen a few different changes that have come through over the last few months, which may mean people have had a significant decline in their benefits, or they may have lost benefits entirely.”

Providing food items for free through the pantry is meant to address food affordability issues as well as to help to reduce the stigma associated with getting food assistance by having the pantry and grocery sections under one roof, McCoy said.

“No one wants to be seen as in-need,” he said. “I can guarantee you we’ve signed up at least 67 households that would’ve never gotten the resources they needed.”

Moving forward, McCoy would like to see The After Market expand in the Sunrise Manor community. He also would like to bring this model of grocery store to other food deserts in Las Vegas.

“I want to see it in every community where there is a food line to get people out of the 112-115-degree weather to get what they need,” he said.

Contact Sean Hemmersmeier at shemmersmeier@reviewjournal.com. Follow @seanhemmers34 on Twitter.

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