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Joe and Mariam Maldonado aren’t opening Luna’s Groceries in the Allied Dunn’s Marsh neighborhood with the intention of making a lot of money. They’re doing it because they want to serve their community, says Joe. The neighborhood is considered a food desert — an urban area where residents don’t have access to or can’t afford quality fresh food. By day, Joe is the director of community impact-academic success at the United Way of Dane County, and Mariam is the outreach and intake manager of the Urban League of Greater Madison. Mariam, who leads the Luna’s Groceries project and came up with the idea, has managed the renovation of the building, found product distributors, hired staff and now is running the store. Joe leads additional fundraising efforts and manages social media and some community partnerships. Joe talked about Luna’s Groceries in this edited conversation.
Please tell us more about this effort and how it got started.
Mariam and I have lived in the Allied Dunn’s Marsh neighborhood for a little over six years and are very invested in the community. We have seen a need for a grocery store in our neighborhood since Copps closed nine years ago. We took an opportunity when the check-cashing store closed in 2018. The store is a full-service grocery store with a butcher, five aisles worth of products and fresh affordable produce. The majority of our residents in the Allied Dunn’s Marsh neighborhood are African American, Latino and there is also a significant Southeast Asian population. A large number of the residents in the neighborhood do not own vehicles, and previously the closest grocery store within walking distance was two miles away. The opening of Luna’s facilitated the ability for folks to be able to walk to get their food and not necessarily have to rely on items in a gas station or Walgreens. Essentially, what Luna’s did is fill a gap that existed.
What do you think Luna’s impact will be on the neighborhood?
We carry items that meet the needs of our African-American and Latino residents. We have specialty food items that not only folks in our neighborhood would want to access but maybe folks from other parts of the city come to get. There is a significant number of Latino grocery stores in the area — not in our neighborhood but in the Madison area. We want to make sure that people who live in our neighborhood can also access these types of products, whether that be collard greens, plantains or any other item that our community wants to see.
My wife is from a family of grocers. Mariam was born and raised in the Dominican Republic and her father operated medium- to large-sized grocery stores there. I work here and live here so I am intimately familiar with the needs of the community as well. This initiative is from within the neighborhood. We live less than six blocks from Luna’s. That allows us in real time to be responsive to the community.
What should happen to keep the grocery store successful?
We received support from our neighbors and community leaders in Allied. They really championed this. Food deserts exist in multiple places in Madison and throughout the country. I hope in the long-term future to see these initiatives happening in multiple places. I hope Luna’s can not only inspire people but also provide best practices and models for this work to continue. This type of operation isn’t a huge cash cow; this is something we are doing to serve.
Personally, what does it mean for you and your family to open this store?
Allied is a jewel. It is full of great human beings. This will be one of many parts of this community that our neighbors can turn to. Whether it be our customers, our staff, our supporters, I think this store will bring out the best in people. Our motto is, “Luna’s Groceries, Your Corner Store.” We want to make sure our community owns this.
What’s one thing you would like the broader community to know about Luna’s Groceries and the Allied Dunn’s Marsh neighborhood?
Come shop with us. No matter where you live. Come shop with us and come see what we do. I think you’ll see the value of our community.
Mackenzie Krumme is an editorial intern at Madison Magazine.
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