For years, residents in Kansas City, Kansas’ downtown area have gone without a full-service grocery store. Living in a food desert, a place where residents lack convenient access to fresh, healthy food, community members had been forced to shop at nearby dollar stores where there are few nutritious or fresh options.

Those days have come to an end. A new grocery store, the Merc Co-op, opened in the 500 block of Minnesota Avenue.

The 14,000 square foot store carries a mix of organic, conventional and generic foods at a variety of price points. The store features a deli, salad bar and café. The store is also committed to community education, so they have a classroom and kitchen for classes to teach about cooking and nutrition.

 “I know this is something we really needed for years here,” said Jeff Terrell, KCK Merc Co-op managing director, “so we are definitely happy and … we look forward to serving the community.”

The Merc Co-op is a unique kind of grocery store because it is completely owned by its community members. Anyone can shop there, but community members have the option to own a share in the store, which means discounts, the ability to vote for the board of directors and having an impact for the direction of the business.

Another perk to becoming an owner are the rebates. Owners can receive a portion of the Merc Co-op’s profit at the end of the year that they receive in a check or can apply to their groceries at check-out. This year, those who purchased $892 or more in groceries over the year will receive a rebate.

To become an owner, you can choose one of three options: a one-time fee of $75, three $25 installments or those shoppers enrolled in Food Assistance Programs in Kansas or Missouri are eligible for the $10 MercShare ownership.

“We exist to serve our owners’ needs and so we treat every shopper that comes in like an owner of the store,” said Rita York Hennecke, store manager. The Merc Co-op now has over 8000 owners from the Lawrence, KS and KCK communities.

Lawrence is home to the first Merc Co-op store, which has been around for 45 years.

The Merc is the culmination of three years of work on behalf of the Wyandotte County Unified Government to bring a grocery store to east Kansas City.  To help make the store a reality, the Unified Government invested nearly $7 million of their proceeds from the sale of the Hilton Garden Inn to help fund the construction, equipment and furnishings for the new store. The Merc Co-op is responsible for property taxes and utilities.

Mayor David Alvey said the new grocery store is just the beginning of the continued rebirth of downtown KCK.

“We believe in future years, there will be further development on this block,” Alvey said. “We are confident that we are going to have new sustainable neighborhoods, built on areas that were devastated by blight and by redlining.”

The Merc Co-op made a commitment to maintain a diverse mix of employees and local producer/suppliers.  About 30% of the products the Merc Co-op offers are from the over 200 local producers. Of those local producers, 13% are minority owned and 11% are Black-owned.

“We’ve got some work to do to improve these numbers, and look forward to building more relationships in the local producer community,” said Valerie Taylor, marketing manager for the Merc Co-op.

At opening, 66% of the store’s staff identify as Black, indigenous or people of color (BIPOC). About 80% of their supervisors are BIPOC and 86% of the staff are residents of KCK. 

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Jazzlyn Johnson

Jazzlyn "Jazzie” is the former senior reporter for our team, who joined the company in 2020 in the midst of the pandemic, through the Report for America service program. For the past two years, she covered...

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