Robert Thomas is now serving up wheatgrass shots at his club-turned-grocery store in Houston, Texas.

After the pandemic forced Thomas to shut down the club he ran for five years, he used his savings and unemployment benefits to convert the space into District Market Green Grocer, a grocery store and juice bar focused on natural and organic products.

Since its opening in November, District Market Green Grocer has been gaining a reputation as a place that uplifts Black-owned and locally sourced brands. “It still amazes a lot of people. … ‘He has all these different Black vendors,’ and that’s pretty much what sticks with people,” Thomas said.

District Market Green Grocer is among the Black-owned grocery stores — many of which are independent and small chains — across the U.S. aiming to meet community needs and push the envelope on innovation in the grocery industry. Some Black-owned grocery stores are focusing on areas such as cashierless checkout and ethnic grocery marketplaces, while others are looking to provide nutritious, affordable food. Some have opened — or plan to do so — in areas where supermarkets are scarce or areas where major chains have left.

While the grocery industry is full of examples of family-owned supermarkets passed down for generations, that hasn’t been the case for Black-owned grocery stores, according to Liz Abunaw, founder of Forty Acres Fresh Market in Chicago.

Black-owned grocery stores have dwindled since the 1970s and Black farmers lost acreage between the 1940s and 2000s, leading to dwindling ownership stakes in food processing, shipping and wholesaling, Abunaw said. Walmart’s expansion into suburban and rural areas has only whittled down small businesses further, and many left cities for suburbs alongside White populations just after WWII, she said. Without generational knowledge, Black entrepreneurs are starting with “micro-businesses” to build expertise from the ground up, she said.

“What you’re seeing now is people saying enough is enough. We need food in our communities because we see the connection between food and health and we want some type of ownership. We are tired of waiting on corporations to recognize our value as consumers and serve us where we live,” Abunaw said.

Read the full article about Black-owned grocers by Catherine Douglas Moran at Smart Cities Dive.