In 2014, before the formation of Monroe Road Advocates (MoRA) group, area residents expressed the need for grocery store options. Accessibility to full-service groceries with healthy food options in close proximity to home is critical to the health of every community, but the corridor only had two grocery stores—both at Sardis Road North, located near the end of the corridor. That was appalling for an eight-mile-long major artery lined with neighborhoods.
The Charlotte/Mecklenburg Quality of Life Explorer for Monroe Road is a swath of light green color coding, indicating that less than 10 percent of residences are located within walking distance (½-mile) of a full-service, chain grocery store. (Chains accept most forms of payment, including EBT.)
But ask anyone in the city, even the City itself, and people will tell you: You can’t force a grocery store to open where you want.
Community voice meets corporate decision-making models
A small group of neighbors first brushed up against corporate decision-making models when they got together to appeal to Trader Joe’s. They learned that they didn’t fit the chain’s demographic. The area was perceived as not having the buying power to make it an attractive option.
Goode Properties actively sought a grocer to complement Meridian Place, a mixed use development, but was repeatedly turned down. Adding insult to injury, Harris Teeter canceled a scheduled upgrade of its Sardis Road North store, while nearby Food Lion made only a few cosmetic changes. However, both chains were planning massive upgrades in other parts of Charlotte. And in Cotswold, Publix was planning to build directly across the street from Harris Teeter.
Especially with discussions about light rail taking place, the Monroe Road corridor was likely to be the next area of Charlotte that would be developed. Local stakeholders realized that they needed to be at the table. A collective voice was essential. Monroe Road Advocates (MoRA) officially formed as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and began outreach through a town hall meeting, surveys, and community conversations.
Residents were defining their priorities and perspective was widening to view the needs of the corridor as a whole.
Voice and action
Fast forward to 2019. MoRA’s board was approached by local developer Selwyn Property Group. They needed public meetings for rezoning the corner at Idlewild and Monroe Roads for a project to be anchored by a new ALDI, and MoRA communicated and helped facilitate those meetings. At the same time but further down the road, a rezoning was approved for Lidl, a new grocery chain entering the Charlotte market.
ALDI was experiencing healthy national growth. It was a good fit for the area. However, some of the details of the original site plan did not fit with the community’s goals for an urban design.
MoRA’s representatives pressed them to align the store with Monroe Road (rather than placing it in the middle surrounded by parking), to provide safer access for a more pedestrian-oriented community. They also asked for higher quality materials, upgraded lighting, and wider sidewalks.
ALDI opened in February of 2019 with all of those requests implemented.
Delivering on an important need
Lidl opened its store in December 2020 to the delight of area fans. But even after doubling the number of grocery stores from two to four, the Monroe Road corridor still needs more access. Those who rely on public transportation need healthy options close to home.
MoRA organized as an all-volunteer group with the commitment to listen to area residents, to create relationships with those who are making plans for the area, and to advocate as early in the process as possible for what residents and other stakeholders say they need.
Says MoRA’s Kathy Hill, “Creating community — with city officials, with developers, with small local businesses, and with residents — will be what keeps this area strong.”
Monroe Road Advocates (MoRA) is grassroots group of volunteers from Monroe Road neighborhoods, businesses, nonprofits, and schools. We’re connecting community in the corridor from Lupie’s/7th Street to NC-51.