It’s been over two years of jumping hurdles, lobbying and trying to navigate a pandemic for business partners and couple Michele Jones and Steve Fernandez.
But their arduous journey is paying off, as the two have finally received “critical” funding needed to continue working on bringing a boutique grocery store to downtown Port Huron.
“It’s not the easiest of times to do a large-scale project like this,” Fernandez said.
Fernandez and Jones own Country Style Market Place at 3900 Pine Grove Ave. in Fort Gratiot and in the past have been involved with downtown Port Huron restaurants.
The two acquired the former Woolworth’s location at 310 Huron Ave. in 2018. They focused on bringing a grocery store to the space because that’s what people in the area said they wanted, the couple said.
“The more we looked into it the more it made sense,” Fernandez said.
But the only things they could do before getting financial approval was some roof repair and taking off the façade.
The two were seeking a Michigan Economic Development Corporation grant, which meant they couldn’t start a project until the funding was approved. And this Monday the couple were notified that all of their funding was officially closed, Jones said.
The two received this critical funding from two separate entities: The MEDC and Capital Impact Partners.
Ian Wiesner, Capital Impact Partners director of business development, said there is approximately $3.4 million in total funding, including a loan that will be repaid by the MEDC grant.
Capital Impact Partners is a nonprofit community development financial institution that provides investments and focuses on different areas, including increasing access to healthy food. The nonprofit saw the MEDC’s involvement, visited the former Woolworth’s site and saw the community support, which demonstrated the importance of the project, he said.
Port Huron is a food desert and the grocery store will provide healthy food to the area and create jobs, important factors for the nonprofit.
“This project was clearly going to hit those goals,” Wiesner said.
The MEDC is granting the project either $630,000 or 25% of the total cost of renovating the building, whichever is less, Fernandez said.
According to a MEDC brief memo, the property contains the two-story building totaling approximately 32,262 square feet on the first floor, second floor and in the building basement.
Once complete, the building will have a grocery on the main floor and lower level of the building. The second floor will contain three new office spaces and one residential loft, according to the brief.
The couple said the project’s progress was slowed due to the pandemic, with three months of “radio silence” and they had to go back and ask for more money because supplies are “astronomically” higher now.
Jones said assessments will need to be done for the project and then the roof will be the next step, hopefully getting it completed before winter so construction crews can work inside.
Fernandez said work on the building will hopefully pick up in the next week or two. It will be at least a year before the grocery store can open, but he couldn’t give a definite timeline.
When it is open the store will be named PH Country Style Market and carry everything from aspirin to toilet paper. It will have healthy groceries and carry the same products as the couple’s Fort Gratiot store and will not carry tobacco products, pet food, lottery tickets or hard liquor, they said.
The store will employ around 30 to 40 people, but they won’t know for sure until renovations are on the home stretch, Fernandez said.
Jones said the couple is very happy to get to this point. They’re not looking forward to going into debt, but they’re happy to put a grocery store where it’s needed. It will all come to fruition when they’re finally able to open.
“It took awhile but it’s going to happen,” she said.
And Port Huron is ready to welcome them, Port Huron Downtown Development Authority Director Cynthia Cutright said.
“We’re just so excited to see this moving forward,” she said.
“I really just think this is a collision of great timing,” she said.
First published by Times Herald on October 23, 2020.