On the heels of a major renovation that included a 3,000-square-foot expansion, a new walk-in wine cellar, produce section, and sweeping craft beer selection to boot, the early April re-opening of the new Creston Market
was a long time coming.
The building overhaul is a product of a nearly decade-long vision shared by Creston Market co-owners Tom Cronkright II and Lawrence Duthler, who have owned the building at 1043 Plainfield Ave. NE since 2005, but didn't gain full control over operations until last year when they bought out the former business owner.
"It was really kind of a run-down party store," Cronkright says, adding that he and Duthler knew the community needed more than just a place to buy soda, beer and salty snacks. They needed fresh produce and healthier options, higher ceilings and more high-quality products.
"It just needed so much work and frankly, the residents deserved more from that store," he says.
So, Cronkright and Duthler — who also co-own the neighboring title service Sun Title
at 1410 Plainfield Ave. NE — created the designs for the new Creston Market themselves and shut down the space in mid-February to knock down a separating wall and utilize an additional 2,000 square feet that had gone untouched for over a decade.
Alongside netting three new full-time and part-time jobs respectively, the renovation garnered the attention of the YMCA and New City Neighbors
, who Cronkright says were looking for a corner store like Creston Market - which is located in what is considered an urban food desert, or an area where residents have little to no access to fresh fruits and vegetables - to implement a pilot program with grant money from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
"It was described to us as that they were looking to identify a store located in a food desert area and there was a grant that USDA, through the YMCA, was offering to help offset the cost of the cooler and the infrastructure needed to bring fresh produce into the store," he says.
Now, not only does the YMCA deliver fresh produce on a regular basis through the pilot program, but the New City Neighbors urban farm initiative, which brings together local farmers with high school students to grow and stock organic produce, has planted its first seeds in the ground for what will eventually grow into a line of organic, seasonal produce available to Creston Market shoppers once harvested.
"The case behind what the YMCA is doing with the program is not only to address the food desert, but also create [a] viable economic model they can show a store that says, ‘you should take six or eight feet of precious retail space to put in a produce section," Cronkright says, hoping Creston Market can serve as one of the first data sets that proves fresh produce can make money for corner markets still operating under assumptions to the contrary.
Although sourcing products from local vendors is, in a sense, built in to the USDA pilot program, Cronkright says he and Duthler had independently set out to restock the market with an intentional focus on staying as local as possible. The market worked with GR Coffee Roasters to create a custom Creston Market coffee blend, and the pair curated a massive selection of Michigan-made craft beers to the store's inventory in addition to bringing in fresh donuts and other locally made goods each morning before opening.
"We made it a point to say we’re from here, we’ve been educated here, we started our careers here and are growing our families here and we wanted the store to reflect as much as we could the fact that we’re working here with other Michigan-based companies as much as we can," he says.
However, Cronkright says Creston Market's new look is part of a larger redevelopment effort that has been quietly bubbling to the surface in Grand Rapids' North Quarter for years, only now becoming tangible with a growing number of new developments that include 616 Development's new residential living complex and a yet-to-be-named brewery in the old DeKorne furniture building.
"There have been a lot of stakeholders, both public and private, working tirelessly for the last 10 years on what we call the North Quarter and the North End all of the way up through Cheshire," he says. "My partner and I just went into this saying, Creston deserves better than what this store is offering them, and they've responded very, very, favorably…The neighborhood is going to change and it’s just going to become more diverse and we wanted to make sure we lived up to it."
To hear owners talk more about making their decade-long vision a reality, click here to watch a short video
introducing the new Creston Market, or visit www.crestonmarketgr.com to learn more about what May 18-June 12 special offers.
Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Creston Market
90-year-old building in Grand Rapids' Creston district renovated for Sun Title expansion