SPEDA mini-grant helps with refrigeration costs at new store
While the COVID-19 pandemic has cast darkness on much of the economy, for Somerset entrepreneur Jamie Fitzwater it is shining a light on an issue she’s championed for some time — the importance of local food to the supply chain.
“The problem with our food supply in the United States is that our farming population is aging, and it’s not profitable,” Jamie said. “As we’ve seen this year, our food supply depends on smaller sources.”
Indeed, while many shelves were empty in larger grocery stores during the height of the pandemic, Jamie and her husband John were busy stocking them with Kentucky goods at The Market on Main, their family business and Somerset’s only local food grocer. And while the pandemic delayed the couple’s plans to open a second location at Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital by two months, it put an even stronger emphasis on the value of this business to the community as a place where people can find items they need and support local producers.
Inside the store located on South U.S. 27, shoppers can find products from more than 100 different Kentucky companies, including bags of Somerset’s own Baxter’s Coffee, meat and produce from regional farmers, and Kentucky’s favorite Winchester-bottled soda, Ale-8. The Market’s new location at the hospital, which officially opened June 1, carries many of these items plus a robust selection of Kentucky crafts and gifts.
The Fitzwaters even own a locally cherished recipe that their family now makes and sells daily. Mac’s coleslaw was a staple in Somerset and Pulaski County for decades — and if you’ve got a craving, you can find it in refrigerators at both Market on Main locations.
Paying to keep that coleslaw — and other goods like milk, eggs and Kentucky cheeses that people can grab quickly on their way home from work — refrigerated is one of the most expensive aspects of opening another retail space. That’s why the Fitzwaters applied for a Somerset-Pulaski Economic Development Authority (SPEDA) mini-grant. The Market on Main was one of four local businesses that received $2,500 to help with expansion.
“Most grants are not really designed for small business because of the work involved,” Jamie said. “We wear all the hats. We do the social media, we clean the bathrooms, we do everything top to bottom. To spend months working on a grant is not practical. SPEDA’s grant was helpful to us to take on new projects like this that are a little risky and stressful. It enables us to take chances that we might not otherwise take to do something new that will really benefit the community.”
And benefit the community it has. Since opening in 2015, The Market on Main has paid out more than $400,000 to Kentucky farmers and producers plus an additional $90,000 to Pulaski County producers and businesses. Having a second location at the hospital puts Somerset and Kentucky products into one of the community’s most visited institutions. As a 300-bed hospital, LCRH sees more than 200,000 patients a year, many of whom are from outside the region. Jamie anticipates the new location will be able to increase the amount her stores are able to pay out to local and Kentucky producers.
Jamie’s passion for the sustainable food movement began during her time as a freelance writer. After writing about small farms and producers and issues with food supply across the country, she decided she wanted to try her hand at organizing and launched the Kentucky Green Living Fair. The event, which introduces people to local and regional producers by bringing them all together in one space, is in its sixth year, though it was canceled in 2020 because of the pandemic.
The fair transitioned into an outdoor farmers’ market in downtown Somerset in 2013.
“I felt like that was something really missing from the community at the time,” Jamie said. “I organized the farmers’ market for a couple of years and then transitioned to the retail space. The weather made it incredibly discouraging the last summer we did it. The retail store is different, but we still have the same goals in mind.”
Jamie and John joke that they started on a trial basis and continue on a trial basis, but it’s clear The Market on Main has established a loyal following. The couple is grateful and hopes to continue shining a light on the importance of supporting local farmers and producers.
“The community has been really supportive,” Jamie said.