submitted by Carole Trone; photo by Mary Ellen O’Brien
“More than a store. It is a gathering place,” was how Joe Maldonado summarized the special role of Luna’s Groceries in its first year of operations. Luna’s Groceries is the result of the inspiration, research and hard work of Joe and wife/business partner Mariam Maldonado, longtime residents of Madison’s Allied/Dunn’s Marsh neighborhood. As of last fall, they are owners of the only full-service grocery store in this diverse, working class neighborhood.
They love this neighborhood but recognized how residents have struggled to find nearby affordable and healthy food since the area’s only grocery store closed in 2009. Joe and Mariam both recounted rich childhood experiences of daily visits to the local store in their respective upbringings in Milwaukee and the Dominican Republic. Joe explained how “food deserts”—defined by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as the lack of convenient access to nutritious fruits, vegetables, meats and grains—hit low-income communities of color particularly hard.
Luna’s Groceries was preceded by a year of research into national, regional and local data on troubling patterns of food deserts located in low-income neighborhoods with correspondingly high numbers of chronic health problems. The Allied/Dunn’s Marsh Neighborhood was one of ten identified food deserts in Madison, further challenged by its location squeezed into a growing and massive road and highway interchange on Madison’s southwest side.
Nine months after opening, Luna’s is on target to exceed sales projections. Perhaps more importantly, Luna’s has become the answer to isolation, with an unexpected booming social media engagement, monthly cooking classes, demand for hot specialty foods, and a bi-monthly “Coffee at Luna’s” interview-format gathering on education, health and social issues that affect community members. With Luna’s Groceries, Madison residents can feed body and soul.