March 1, 2019

Detroit entrepreneur who plans to open the city’s only black-owned grocery store starts small

A corner store in Detroit will also be a vital community anchor. Read these three stories on how local innovation can make a difference in everyday lives.

Detroit entrepreneur Raphael Wright and his business partner Sonya Greene hope to open the Glendale Mini Mart in Detroit this year. The shop will serve as a training ground for residents who want to learn how to manage a grocery store. Photo by Tom Perkins

Each week, The Renewal Project shares three stories from around the country that highlight the innovative solutions people are creating in their communities. In this edition, an entrepreneur is opening Detroit’s only black-owned grocery store, a writer decides to join his local housing authority to address his city’s lack of affordable housing, and a partnership helps families recover from the historically long government shutdown. What are the innovative ideas in your hometown? Tell us at

More than a corner store: In a city where a majority of residents are African American, it’s a problem that there are no black-owned grocery stores in Detroit. Local entrepreneur Raphael Wright is trying to change that. With the help of his business partner Sonya Greene, Wright is in the process of securing land for their store, Neighborhood Grocery. In the meantime, he is currently working on converting a vacant party store in the city’s Dexter-Linwood neighborhood into a mini-mart. He’s hoping to open the store this fall.

The bodega, Glendale Mini Mart, will not only sell fresh produce and other healthy items, but will also serve as a “training center” for employees looking to gain experience running a grocery store. One of the main reasons that there are no black-owned grocery stores in Detroit is the lack of management experience, reports the Metro Times. Greene bought the mini mart with the hope of turning it into “a community anchor that will spark further development in the neighborhood.” Wright and Greene are in the process of raising money for both stores.

Your local housing authority needs you: Christian MilNeil is a writer based in Portland, Maine, but about seven years ago, he decided to do something to help his community. He was interested in addressing his city’s lack of affordable housing, so he volunteered to serve as a commissioner for the Portland Housing Authority. In an essay for CityLab, he wrote, “I signed up because I had a nagging question: I wanted to know why, in a city with a known housing shortage, our public housing agency was paying thousands of dollars a year to maintain a little-used parking lot in my neighborhood, instead of building more housing there.”

Public housing programs across the country offer millions of people stability and security, especially in cities where affordable housing is scarce. Since joining his local organization, MilNeil learned that most public housing agencies do not have the time, staff, or financial resources to even think about replacing parking lots with new affordable apartment buildings. But, he writes, there’s something you can do to help solve this issue in your own community: “Consider volunteering for your local housing authority.”

MilNeil acknowledges that volunteering at his local housing authority can be time consuming, but he explained how rewarding it was for him to welcome families into the new affordable apartment buildings and see his neighborhood transform into a safe and stable environment.

Bringing awareness to hunger in America: Due to the recent historic government shutdown, Americans who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, were thrown off their regularly scheduled benefits payday. They were given their February benefits in January, with no additional benefits scheduled until March. According to data collected by Propel, a software company that makes tools for low-income users, over a third of February’s benefits had been spent before the month even started. This meant that SNAP recipients were likely to run out of benefits before the next payment in March.

To help these families cope, Propel partnered with Full Cart, an initiative of the nonprofit Feeding Children Everywhere, to raise money to send free nonperishable food to families with a low SNAP balance amount. With some help foundations, individuals, and Propel’s investors, the effort raised more than 600,000 individual meals that will help feed over 12,000 families in need.

Correction: We have updated this post to reflect that entrepreneur Raphael Wright is aiming to open the only black-owned grocery store in Detroit, not the first, as we had originally reported. A reader kindly pointed out that African-American businessmen James Hooks owned and operated Metro Foodland in Detroit for many years, until it closed in 2014.

Danielle Moskowitz

Danielle Moskowitz

Dani Moskowitz is a contributor to The Renewal Project.