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Memphis couple opens Black-owned grocery store in a food desert

The store is called BL Grocery, which stands for Black Lives Grocery.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — MEMPHIS, Tenn -- Black entrepreneurship is a subject that can always be talked more about. Next month, a local chef and a traveling nurse will open a Black-owned grocery store on Valse Road. The store is called BL Grocery, which stands for Black Lives Grocery.  

Owners Jerrell Spencer and Ursula Martin said they were inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, and wanted to continue to draw attention to justice while empowering the community. 

The two expressed how they have always wanted to own some form of real estate, but they were not sure exactly what it would be, until the opportunity presented itself one day.

Spencer said they moved on it immediately, with their own money.

"We decided the store, even though it's real estate, we decided it's two for one. We can own real estate and we can serve the community."

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He explained how the idea of creating a brick-and-mortar store came to mind when he was in the area one day and stopped by the store for something to drink, but to his surprise, the door was closed.

"So once I found out the store was closed, I then did a little research and found out that the land was bank-owned…that's where I proceeded and went and bidded and won the bid, and here we are," Spencer expressed. 

Work has not slowed down since they have owned the store. Co-owner Ursula Martin said she first learned the importance of Black entrepreneurship from her family and it is one reason she wanted to return the favor.

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"Just watching my grandmother and my aunts and cousins and even myself, not have to leave the community for most of their needs, and so as we develop BL Grocery, we want to be able to kind of bring that field back to the community," Martin said.

The store sits at the corner of Valse Road and is one of many food deserts in the city. When the door does open for business, residents will not have to worry about traveling far to buy healthier and more affordable foods options. 

The couple said they will sell fresh fruits, meats, and cooked foods, all while buying their supply from Black-owned vendors, as much as possible.

"We're going to try to use local farmers as much as we can, the farmers market…we're going to try to get a lot of supplies from there, but mostly all the stuff, we're going to try to do with local vendors here," Spencer said. 

Longtime Resident Lakeesha Bowles expressed that the store has served as a landmark for her since it is where she spent much of her time growing up. She told ABC24 this is a resource the community needs.

"It's always been a Black-owned store and it just went dead for a while," Bowles said.

She stressed how much representation matters and said she is thankful that her kids will be able to see what all goes into running a business. The store is not just a dream for the couple, but it is hers too. 

"I just want my child to grow up and feel the same thing I felt growing up in this neighborhood because this neighborhood is filled. Everybody is family," Bowles said. "It just brings tears to my eyes, it really do. I have seen the blood, sweat, and tears coming up here. I have seen them working through this and I'm just waiting on the grand opening. I hope I be out here when they release the balloons, cause I am really excited about this."

If all goes as planned with renovations, BL Grocery will open for business in early March. There will also be different payment options that will include SNAP, cash, and more. 

Spencer included that they will look to hire people within the community.

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