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By Making Groceries Mobile, Milwaukeeans Hope To Bring Food -- And Jobs -- To Residents

LaToya Dennis
Jay Holmes (left), Naurice Fitzgerald (middle) and another founder of Market Boxx Community Stores hope to launch the first in a matter of weeks

Access to fresh food is limited in some Milwaukee neighborhoods without full-service grocery stores. Now, a few residents have come up with a plan they call Market Boxx. It would not only bring fresh produce to more people, but also create entrepreneurs, starting in the Sherman Park neighborhood. The project has gotten new energy, since the police killing there of Sylville Smith and the subsequent protests.

Naurice Fitzgerald never thought he’d find himself laying a vinyl floor. But on the day we met, that’s exactly what he was doing. The 21-year old is part of a team building a Market Boxx Community store.

Credit LaToya Dennis
Naurice Fitzgerald says he sees himself owning several Market Boxx Community Stores in the future

Picture a small shed on wheels with windows and vinyl siding.

Inside there’s not much space to move around, but when it’s done, the small mobile store will sell deli items along with fresh fruit and vegetables.

Right now, Fitzgerald says he has a new level of respect for people in the building trades. “It’s easier said and done with a blueprint, you wouldn’t think that. But once you get to doing it yourself, it’s way harder,” he says.

Market Boxx Community Stores have been in the works for years, but Fitzgerald is new to the team. “I want to be able to say I helped build this and I had a part in this because it’s going to go somewhere,” he says.

Now before we go any further, I should offer up the back story on Fitzgerald. After talking with him for a while, he mentioned that he was good friends with Sylville Smith, the black man a Milwaukee officer shot and killed in August, sparking two days of unrest. It happened less than a half mile from here.

“I was really close to him. I was with him the day before he got killed and the day before that because it was my birthday,” Fitzgerald says.

Fitzgerald had also been looking for work, but couldn’t find it. “Like just all types of jobs. Temp services, Walmart, pizza places, all types of places but you know, sometimes they don’t call back. Even when they say they hiring so bad, they still don’t call back,” he says.

But since his friend died, Fitzgerald says he’s been taking a more active role in his life starting with Market Boxx. “When I came into this and just started putting my all into it, I see progress in it, and I see like I can build something like this and then from it and experience it and end up owing my own, in a couple months probably. It’s a lot of [independence] and it’s worth it,” he says.

Jay Holmes is one of the founders of Market Boxx Community Stores.

“Entrepreneurs aren’t limited by anything but their own talent and tenacity. Even at the best job, there tends to be these glass ceilings,” he says.

Holmes is helping build this facility, while teaching the others.

"We want to catch our young adults at that age and give them a chance to do anything."

“We have designs and blue prints for carts in different businesses that we need in our community. And we work with community organizations and entrepreneurs to build those carts. Some will qualify for grants, some will have the skill to build their own cart. We help facilitate that and we connect you with your suppliers, and that’s how Market Boxx works,” he says.

Holmes and Fitzgerald met while out protesting Sylville Smith’s death. Holmes says he’s been targeting adults between the ages of 18 and 24 to help build the first small store and teach them about business ownership.

“It’s an age where most people still understand that they can do anything. And we want to catch our young adults at that age and give them a chance to do anything,” Holmes says.

Holmes says Market Boxx is about building all-around stronger and healthier communities.

“People need better access to fresh affordable food and because we can focus the communities earning power and dollars into things that help make us healthy and also help create jobs in our own community,” he says.

Holmes says that while the team is still working to get its first store up and running, people around the city have expressed an interest in bringing Market Boxx to their neighborhoods.

For volunteer Naurice Fitzgerald, he says the possibilities have changed the way he sees his life unfolding. “You know, I thought I’d just be working a job, get a family. You know being a solo person, not really talking to people. Now I look at it like I’ll be an aspect in the community like bro helped build something. Or bro really loved black people, he cares, he cares for the community,” Fitzgerald says.

Organizers hope to launch the first Market Boxx store in Sherman Park within the next few weeks.

LaToya was a reporter with WUWM from 2006 to 2021.
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