Help could be on the way for many of Troy’s neediest residents. Real estate developer First Columbia is proposing that a 20,000-square-foot Bargain Grocery—a nonprofit-funded supermarket that serves low-income residents in urban “food deserts“—should open on River Street in Troy. (It’s still awaiting approval from the city.)
If the plans go through, Bargain Grocery would be Downtown Troy’s largest, most centrally-located grocery store and would serve healthy food to customers in an area plagued by food accessibility issues (the surrounding neighborhood has a 43 percent poverty rate).
So what exactly is Bargain Grocery? It’s a low-cost supermarket concept dreamed up by Mike Servello, a Utica area pastor. In 2002, Servello launched the nonprofit Compassion Coalition, which serves hundreds of thousands of Utica area customers with Bargain Grocery and donates more than $20 million in goods each year to the Utica community. The first Bargain Grocery opened in 2018.
The way it works is Bargain Grocery buys fresh food at a discount—either because the food is overproduced, or because the food didn’t meet certain superficial standards, such as aesthetics or packaging issues. Since the grocery obtains food at lower prices, it can sell the food back to customers at lower prices. The profits from Bargain Grocery in Utica have not only funded community food giveaways, but also mattresses, clothing and other household and essential goods. The grocery store also hires employees from the underserved communities around it, so it serves a dual purpose.
“This part of Troy, where we [could] be opening, could be considered a ‘food desert,’ so it really fits our mission,” says Servello. “Residents of under-resourced neighborhoods don’t have access to the same health food, the same deals that others have. Larger grocers don’t typically go into areas like this, so we’re partnering with other community leaders to do something about this critical problem.”
The planned location for the grocery store is 558 River Street, across the street from Flanigan Square, located near the intersections of NYS Route 7 (Hoosick Street) and US Route 4 (River Street). The historic brick building most recently housed Smith’s Beauty Supply Co., and the proposal is to turn the two-story, 20,000-square-foot building into the market, along with a community prep kitchen space and a cafe upstairs.
The project has already gotten one level of sign-off, having had a conceptual review approved by the Troy Planning Commission. The project will appear in front of the commission again next month to review further details.
If the low-cost market project does get the green light, it will certainly become the largest low-cost market in Downtown Troy, but it won’t be the first. Underserved communities in the area currently have access to fresh produce at the Urban Grow Center Market managed by Troy-based nonprofit Capital Roots, which is located at 594 River Street, just a two-minute walk from Bargain Grocery’s proposed location. Capital Roots also has two mobile produce markets, the Veggie Mobile and Sprout, which park in local urban areas and sell low-cost produce to residents there; and partners with urban convenience stores to stock their shelves with fresh produce.