Encouraging grocery store chains to invest in a neighborhood they can’t initially see potential in is a challenge that community organizers, local elected officials and neighborhood families in urban areas are all too familiar with. Indeed, this challenge plagued Milwaukee’s Near West Side – a long-time fresh food desert – for decades. 

Near West Side Partners took this challenge as a call to arms, engaging with potential grocery store partners, identifying potential locations for fresh food stores and engaging members of the community to help identify both needs and potential solutions. 

This community engagement included the January 2017 “Grocery Challenge” – a collaboration between Near West Side Partners and Marquette University to generate innovative, affordable and sustainable models of bringing fresh food to the neighborhood. Marquette students and community members focused on out-of-the-box thinking in one of six categories: small footprint stores, food pantries, existing retail spaces, co-ops, alternative grocery models and food literacy.

Later that year, the Near West Side Farmers Market launched, bringing farm-fresh options and locally prepared foods and goods to the community on a weekly basis throughout the summer.

In August of 2017, Marquette University, Near West Side Partners and Sendik’s Food Market announced the opening of a new, small footprint, grab-and-go grocery store in Avenues West. Sendik’s arrival meant that the Near West Side fresh food desert had its first fresh food oasis.

That momentum continued when Mo’s Food Market opened on Clybourn Avenue in early 2018. Mo’s, a 14,345-square-foot, full-line grocery store sells an array of fresh foods and grocery items such as dry goods, fruits, vegetables, kitchenware and fresh seafood, including live lobsters, crabs, fish and shellfish.

Seeking a new location in 2020, the Farmers Market evolved into the Vliet Street Oasis Market. Business owners and local residents came together to determine that an empty lot at the corner of 38th and Vliet Streets would make an ideal location for a beautified community gathering space and fresh food resource hub. After cleaning up the area, building food stands and identifying vendor partners, the Vliet Street Oasis Market opened to the community in July of 2020. Since then, the Oasis Market has served as the location for cooking demonstrations, community celebrations and been a consistent source of straight-from-the-vine produce and fresh food items.