This article was featured in our newsletter in November 2023.
Written by Audrey Mitten-Thomsen
This week I’m sharing a story about a business that is very near and dear to my heart. Main Street Harvest (MSH) has been an inspiration to me since I first walked into it about a year and a half ago, and seeing their passion and the progress they were making in the local food system played a huge role in me wanting to be a part of the Phoenix Food Co-op, and wanting to join the rush of excitement about local food.
Soon after stepping into this role with the Co-op, I reached out to MSH, and was able to meet the folks behind the dream. Amanda, Madison, and the whole team at MSH have been kind and welcoming from the beginning, and our interactions have helped me believe that a different future is possible if we have a mindset of abundance, and if we help one another thrive.
Unfortunately, after three years of providing largely local food in Downtown Mesa, Main Street Harvest has made the difficult decision to close their doors as of December 15th.
Today, I want to share with you in their words what the biggest struggles and triumphs of their time in the world of grocery have been. And I hope that our community can come behind MSH as much as you’ve come along the Co-op, and show them love and support in these last weeks, and in any future chapters that may exist.
Though it does reveal some of the shared struggles that exist in local grocery, this article is not meant to discourage- today I want to honor the work and progress that the team at MSH has made, and remind ourselves that while this journey may be hard, we are stronger when we learn from one another, and when we have accurate expectations of what's ahead.
The fight for independent grocery and local food is worth fighting. I believe that. The team at Main Street Harvest believes that. Many of you believe that. But we cannot take on this fight alone, especially as a Co-op. We need your support and that is why we share so often about memberships, donations, and purchasing from the Co-op.
I hope this discussion will be eye-opening and reinvigorate our community in coming behind the vision of the Phoenix Food Co-op, and any other space where we can support local food. Because when one of us succeeds, we are all stronger.
(The following are questions from our team and answers from Amanda Abou-Eid, owner of Main Street Harvest)
Q: What challenges did you expect to face going into starting MSH?
A: Truthfully, bandwidth has always been a challenge for us. When we started Main Street Harvest, we were also setting up our first Proof Bread store on Main Street. We didn't have everything figured out, but we were passionate about the idea that more people needed reliable, regular access to fresh, local food—especially after a year-long pandemic that shut down many markets. During our short tenure of three years as a store, we saw lots of small businesses come and go. The other challenges we expected were those inherent to working with small, less established businesses, their timelines, and unique needs.
Q: What were some of the unexpected challenges you encountered?
A: Bandwidth continued to be an issue, but we have had some incredible managers in place at Main Street Harvest that helped us mitigate this. Madison has become an invaluable part of the fabric and culture of MSH, and before that, Lacey, a former market staffer for Proof, built MSH from 15 vendors to 60+.
But, MSH (and any grocery business) runs on very thin margins and requires a lot of people power and coordination. Some of our challenges could be categorized under the bandwidth bucket, like not having enough time or awareness to get involved or deepen connections with other local or government organizations. We grossly underestimated the amount of time and effort required for marketing on digital platforms. And, most importantly, I think we underestimated the financial investment that would be required of us, especially in a space that didn’t also have a kitchen and required a lot of infrastructural work to make this project viable. Then there were the economic factors of taxes, overhead, inflation, and rising cost of housing that both affected our prices and people’s ability to shop here affordably. At the end of October, this all came to a head and we had to make a difficult decision.
Q: What brought you joy throughout this experience?
A:That’s easy! Making all the connections with local growers and makers around the valley. Entrepreneurship is often glorified, and few really understand the amount of time, effort, and money go into each project. It was so cool to meet the faces behind many local businesses AND have a chance to promote their hard work. Our local market is truly incredible!!
Q: What accomplishments of MSH are you most proud of?
A: For me, personally, it was cultivating this excellent team of creative individuals and fostering a warm and welcoming space for people to shop and care about their local community.
Q: How can the community support you now, and in the future?
A: We are liquidating our store. We have lots of refrigeration, freezers, and merchandising displays for sale. To find out more, follow us on Instagram @mainstharvest. We’re hoping to recoup some of our investments so that we can rebuild this concept a little more sustainably and that requires a clean slate. The best way to support is to continue to shop our store of local vendors until December 15th when we officially close our doors. We are slowly working through our shelf-stable inventories (lots of great gifts!) but are committed to providing our community and customers with fresh local produce, eggs, and milk until the end! <3
You can also find Main Street Harvest's equiptment liquidation sale information here.