Finding the Right Partners to Make a Difference in Underserved Neighborhoods

By Ian Wiesner, business development manager

For many of us, a weekend trip to the grocery store or farmers market to buy fresh produce is such a regular part of our routine that it hardly merits a second thought. But for many others, access to fresh produce may be an hour-long bus ride away. A balanced diet is necessary for health and wellness, but not everyone has access to good nutrition. More than 23 million Americans live in areas where fresh food isn’t easily accessible, and many are residents of inner city, underserved communities.

At Capital Impact Partners, we believe everyone deserves access to healthy food. As a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), we work to ensure that fair financing is not a roadblock for business owners who wish to strengthen their communities by building supermarkets, mobile markets and distribution centers as well as expanding existing stores – like Imperial Fresh Market in Detroit.

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Walk inside the city’s Northwest neighborhood grocery store, and you’ll be greeted by a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables in overflowing bins near the door. And as you maneuver through the aisles, you’ll find locally-sourced products as well as a large fresh meat section and a deli with food that is prepared daily. I had the recent pleasure of experiencing this firsthand when I joined Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and members of the Shina family to speak at the Imperial Market’s grand re-opening ceremony. In 2015, the store underwent a renovation that doubled its size and quadrupled its fresh produce offerings. Capital Impact Partners is proud to have helped secure the $6.2 million investment for the project.

Imperial Fresh Market is exactly the type of project Capital Impact looks for. As a mission-driven lender, these types of deals are more than just a transaction – they are a personal commitment to the borrower, to the neighborhood, and to its residents. When we were considering this project I came by the store many times. Sam Shina (the co-owner) and Justin Shina (the manager) were there. They knew their customers, and they treated them with respect. By seeing their constant presence in the store and getting to know their family’s dedication, we knew we could invest in them and this neighborhood.

Choosing partners who are committed to their neighborhoods

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The Shinas are five brothers who immigrated to the United States from Iraq more than 30 years ago. They currently operate 14 grocery stores throughout the Metro Detroit area, including Imperial Fresh Market, which was their first location purchased in 1994. Imperial Fresh Market is the only full-service grocery store in the area. Approximately 70 percent of its customers, most of whom are African American, use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as the Food Stamp program). To date, Capital Impact has financed 70 small-business owners like the Shinas. Adding a supermarket or other healthy food retailer in these neighborhoods not only creates more access to fresh food for more than a million people; it spurs economic development. Imperial Fresh Market is adding 35 new jobs for local residents, bringing the total number of employees at the supermarket to 70.

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“Our team is dedicated to the city of Detroit,” Imperial Fresh Market Co-owner Sam Shina said to the dozens of customers and supporters who turned out for the grand opening. “We are proud to be part of the rebirth of Detroit by offering a better shopping experience for the community. At the end of the day, this isn’t my store; it belongs to the residents of the neighborhood. They deserve it, and we’re thankful for the help of Capital Impact.”

We look to partner with people like the Shinas who genuinely want to help the residents of their neighborhoods. It’s our goal to increase access to critical services, such as healthy food, for people who need them the most. We know that by investing in the Shinas and in this neighborhood, we’re investing in people who have been in Detroit for a long time and who will continue to be in Detroit in the future.

NMTCs and Private Sector Support

It takes a lot of people to make a project of this size happen, and as the lead loan officer for this project, I’m pleased my team was able to harness the power of several partners to complete this deal.

A key part of this deal was our ability to use $5.5 million in New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) allocations. NMTCs are a vital program of the U.S. Treasury Department’s CDFI Fund that helps CDFIs like Capital Impact leverage private investment through the use of tax incentives. This program helps bring much needed capital from the private sector to support our efforts to finance projects in low-income communities.

In addition to facilitating the NMTC transaction, Capital Impact provided the Shinas with a direct loan and worked with the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation’s Green Grocer Project, which helped coordinate technical assistance and financing. JPMorgan Chase, Invest Detroit, and the W. K. Kellogg Foundation also contributed to financing the store.

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