Baldwin, Florida avoided becoming another food desert.

By Mike Pomranz
Updated December 02, 2019

Plenty has been made of "food deserts"—areas without access to quality grocery stores. In 2018, Baldwin, Florida, could have fit the description: That year, the rural town of under 2,000 residents west of Jacksonville saw the closure of its only supermarket, an IGA, leaving the nearest legitimate grocer at least ten miles away. With no one else willing to take over the location, the town turned to an unusual tactic and took over the space themselves. The result has been the Baldwin Market, a municipal grocery store.

The Baldwin Market officially opened its doors on September 20, but recently garnered fresh attention when The Washington Post took a look at its atypical business model. "We're not trying to make a profit," Mayor Sean Lynch told the paper. "We're trying to cover our expenses, and keep the store running. Any money that's made after that will go into the town in some way."

Katrina Wittkamp/Getty Images

Though this model isn't common—town maintenance workers help unload deliveries and residents will literally tell the mayor what they want stocked—The Post did find some other towns that have similar systems, including in Kansas. David Procter, director of the Rural Grocery Initiative at Kansas State University, described the phenomenon as "food access [becoming] almost like a utility that you have to have for the town to exist."

Back in Baldwin, the town market has apparently been successful to start, though its future isn't guaranteed. The Post reports the plan was to bring in $3,500 in sales each day, and they've been hitting that target. However, the city also took out $150,000 to get the store up and running, and the council plans to see how things have gone after one year to decide on whether it's financially viable to keep it open.

Meanwhile, in a broader sense, what Baldwin has done can't solve all food deserts: The town is both big enough to support a grocery store and small enough to agree that it's worth their taxpayer dollars. You may not be able to say the same for a big city. But for Baldwin, they've apparently found a sweet spot. "Everyone knows it's their store," Lynch explained.