LISC National
Church Hill North Retail Center
 
Our Impact

Church Hill North Retail Center

A new community hub brings a long-awaited grocery store, wellness center and community college campus to a historic, underserved neighborhood

Known as the first neighborhood in Richmond, Church Hill North gained early notoriety as the site of Patrick Henry’s famous “Give me liberty or give me death” speech in 1775, with many of the homes in the neighborhood dating back to before the Civil War. Although bustling with activity for nearly two centuries, Church Hill North slipped into a decline in the 1950s as many residents and businesses moved out of the community. 

Today, the area’s poverty and unemployment rates have surged to 31.7% and 11% respectively, and the neighborhood is designated as a food desert by the federal government. Affordable, healthy food choices are scarce, and chronic health issues such as diabetes and obesity are common. The vast majority of grocery options in the neighborhood are found in corner markets and convenience stores, where options are mostly limited to commercially packaged foods and snacks. Church Hill residents must traverse the city to access supermarkets with fresh foods and produce, rendering them virtually inaccessible to residents and families without a vehicle. 

In June 2016, Steven and Kathie Markel acquired a long-abandoned lot at the intersection of 25th Street and Nine Mile Road. The longtime Richmond residents had followed the neighborhood’s efforts to secure a local super market for years, and began speaking to a number of community stakeholders to learn about the community’s needs and desires for a neighborhood hub and accessible supermarket. 

“This community has been fighting for a quality, affordable grocery store for close to 20 years,” says Mr. Markel. “Kathie and I saw an opportunity to move the needle in a positive direction.”

Despite the disappointments the neighborhood had endured in the past, the Markels successfully assembled a group of community stakeholders to champion the development of the Church Hill North Retail Center, including the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority, Bon Secours Hospitals, the City of Richmond and the larger East End community. NMSC was introduced to the development through LISC’s Virginia office, providing $8 million in New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) financing towards the total development cost of $40 million. The grocery store, called The Market at 25th, opened its doors in April of 2019.

The Market at 25th is at the heart of a larger redevelopment plan for the Church Hill neighborhood, serving as a catalyst for the community’s dormant commercial corridors, supplying an abundance of employment opportunities and supporting community activities, churches and schools by providing a percentage of pre-tax profits to the neighborhood.

The employee base of the store will be largely made up of Church Hill residents. Representatives of the development have been making the rounds at local job fairs and are offering a job readiness and financial literacy course to potential new hires in partnership with local nonprofit Caritas Works, which specializes in career preparation and addressing major barriers to employment. To date, the store has received over 500 applications in anticipation of its grand opening. 

“Hiring local was part of our mission from the beginning,” says Markel. “The vast majority of senior staff at the grocery store are African American and many are current or former residents of the Church Hill community, and we’re working to fill as many vacant positions as possible from within the neighborhood.”

This is the kind of catalytic project the Church Hill community can build around and use to attract more businesses and residents...a hub like this allows the community to reinvest in themselves.
— LISC CEO Maurice Jones

The development, located less than a mile from four public housing communities, is expected to receive around 18,000 visits annually and will include a pharmacy, a branch of the Richmond Heritage Federal Credit Union, a health and wellness center sponsored by the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) medical system, 54 affordable housing units and the new home of Reynolds Community College’s culinary school, called The Kitchens at Reynolds. The Richmond chapter of the Boys & Girls Club will offer a team center at the development, which will serve the neighborhood’s five elementary schools, middle school and high school. 

The VCU Health Hub will offer check-ups and primary care, as well as nutrition and wellness classes. Residents who take the nutrition course will be given customized meal plans and will be shown where to locate everything they’ll need throughout the store.

The Kitchen at Reynolds is expected to serve between 700-800 students at full capacity, and will also feature a market cafe where residents can learn short order cooking or purchase healthy and inexpensive prepared foods made by students, who will also prepare items to sell in the grocery store. Reynolds Community College hopes to eventually expand its agricultural program to the area, opening a greenhouse that will work in conjunction with the school’s culinary and urban farming programs. 

The grocery store and the development’s many other offerings will generate more foot traffic to the area, benefiting nearby small businesses and creating a vibrant new hub for the community.

“Having thriving businesses nearby is vital to ensuring that the grocery meets sales projections and is sustainable,” says Candice Streett, executive director of Virginia LISC. “And having a grocery store will ensure a vibrant corridor for the small businesses.”

LISC CEO Maurice Jones lived in the Church Hill neighborhood for two years starting in 1992, and recalls the unequal distribution of assets at that time between the struggling Church Hill area and its surrounding neighbors. For him, the development of the Church Hill North Retail Center represents not only an array of community needs met, but an asset that has the potential to reinvigorate a part of Richmond that has been historically overlooked by investors. 

“This is the kind of catalytic project the Church Hill community can build around and use to attract more businesses and residents,” says Jones. “Community members won’t need to drive across the city to access healthy foods, the bank, the grocery store – a hub like this allows the community to reinvest in themselves.”

LISC New Markets provided a
$7,690,000
NMTC loan to the Church Hill North Retail Center


 

 

Church Hill North Retail Center

A new community hub brings a long-awaited grocery store, wellness center and community college campus to a historic, underserved neighborhood

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Malik Elliott, Senior Program Manager
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