Food & Cooking

‘Peach Market’ hopes to address Jackson’s ‘food desert’ downtown, owner says

JACKSON, MI — It’s taken nearly six years of research, grant proposals and renovations, but Andrew Kokas hopes to finally open an urban grocery store in downtown Jackson this year, addressing a “food desert” at the center of the city.

“Peach Market,” a 7,000-square-foot grocery with fresh produce, a coffee and liquor bar, deli, prepared foods and more intends to open at the end of spring 2021, said Kokas, who owns and is developing the former Evanoff’s Food and Cocktails building with his wife, Yizhuo “Olivia” Liang.

The market specifically aims to bring healthy whole food and produce to the neighborhoods around downtown, especially in low-income areas where people may have to take public transit to grocery stores, Kokas said.

“(We want) to ensure that the people who live on the fringes of downtown actually can use downtown, which they have not been able to do also for generations,” Kokas said. “Downtown is mainly made up of high-rise office buildings, pricy restaurants and a few gift shops.”

Related: All-in-one restaurant, bar, grocery store on pace to open downtown

Kokas and Liang bought the 120-year-old building at 148 E. Cortland St. in 2014 for $65,000, records show. They’ve spent the last several years working on ways to finance the major renovations needed, Kokas said.

The two tried to get loans from 30 different financial institutions, but couldn’t receive funding because they lacked enough capital on their own, Kokas said. Since then, grants from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Michigan Good Food Fund and others have helped move the project forward.

In the last several years, the roof has been replaced and the load-bearing walls rebuilt. Now work is being done on new storefront windows, while maintaining most of the existing facade, and working on the interior of the building.

Once opened, the market intends to accept Bridge Card and SNAP benefits, Kokas said. Peach Market also plans to coordinate with local nonprofits to offer aid that creates demand, like nutritional counseling and cooking classes.

“Our plan with this grant (from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development) is to introduce the people who are very low income to the idea of fresh foods, and to have them make it part of their diet,” Kokas said.

The market can appeal to everyone, he said. New residents in recently built apartments and senior living communities can walk to it to shop daily, while commuters working at Consumers Energy or Henry Ford Allegiance Health can drop in for prepared food or small groceries after work.

“We’re trying to create a supply and demand for fresh food in downtown,” Kokas said. “That seems like an odd idea, but we have right around this building, thousands and thousands of downtown workers who will hopefully come back and work in their offices and want to come here for organic produce and other sorts of things. But on the fringes of this core downtown, there are about 14 or 15,000 extremely low-income people who haven’t had a grocery store ever.”

Peach Market intends to hire about 30 employees, split evenly between part- and full-time. Most employees hired will be Jackson residents, Kokas said, and more specifically, from neighborhoods surrounding downtown.

“We’re looking forward to seeing this project take shape and pleased to see a vacant building in downtown Jackson find a new use,” City Spokesman Aaron Dimick said in an email. “It’s also welcome news to hear a grocery store is planned at this location, as it’s well known there’s a big demand for more food options in our urban core.”

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