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Northwest Jacksonville 'Food Desert' Getting Worker-Owned Grocery Co-op

Jessica Palombo
An architect's rendering shows plans for the area surrounding the existing North Point Town Center at the corner of Myrtle Avenue and Moncreif Road. Plans include a grocery co-op.

A grocery co-op is coming to the Northwest side of Jacksonville, in an area known as a food desert. The project is the work of nonprofits that are stepping in where grocery chains don’t want to open.

For 15 years, Paul Tutwiler has been working to improve Northwest Jacksonville. He heads up the Northwest Jacksonville Community Development Corporation.

On WJCT’s “First Coast Connect” Tuesday, he said area residents have been asking for a grocery store in their neighborhood, but there was trouble to attract big chains.

“As we talked to many of the national grocers, they were telling us that the income of the area residents were too low,” he said.

Even economic incentives weren’t enough to lure them, he said.

“So we came up with a new idea that’s not so new,” he said. “We could have a community-owned grocery store.”

Federal grants totaling $1.5 million have helped Tutwiler’s organization set a groundbreaking date of late next summer for the co-op, planned for the corner of Moncrief Road and Myrtle Avenue.

He anticipates not only the immediately surrounding neighbors, but thousands of other people will travel to the community to shop at the store once it’s open.

And he wants it to offer only the highest quality food.

“We think that we can provide whole foods, not just any kinds of food that’s outdated and—‘Oh, goodness, it’s cheap!’—you know, we don’t want to sacrifice quality,” he said. “In a community that’s already long suffering, we think that we deserve the best.”

To hear the entire conversation about Northwest Jacksonville development between Paul Tutwiler, Local Initiatives Support Corporation CEO Janet Owens and WJCT News Director Jessica Palombo, click here for Tuesday’s episode of “First Coast Connect.”

Contact Jessica Palombo at 904-358-6315, or on Twitter at @JessicaPubRadio.

Jessica Palombo supervises local news gathering and production, podcasts and web editorial content for WJCT News, ADAPT and Jacksonville Today. She is an award-winning writer and journalist with bylines including NPR, Experience Magazine, and The Gainesville Sun. She has a master’s degree in broadcast and digital journalism from Syracuse University and is an alumna of the University of Florida. A nearly lifelong resident of Jacksonville, she considers herself lucky to be raising her own children in her hometown. Follow Jessica Palombo on Twitter: @JaxJessicaP