After two years, a grocery store in a food desert still thrives.

Oasis Fresh Market recently celebrated its second anniversary and marked the occasion with a DJ, free ice cream, and gift cards for customers. Aaron “AJ” Johnson, the chief executive of Oasis Fresh Markets, spoke about the challenges the grocery store has faced. The store is located at 1725 N. Peoria Ave, and its opening was welcomed by both residents and government leaders who were eager to have a grocery store return to the area.

The store opened in May 2021, and it has been a few years since a grocery store opened near the corner of Pine Street and Peoria Avenue. Gateway Market, which operated on the site of the former Albertsons Grocery Store, closed after operating for about eight years. Before that, Albertsons ran the business on the corner from 2003 to 2007. Named for its location in the food desert, Oasis Fresh Market was meant to be a different attempt to bring fresh produce to underserved communities.

The 16,500-square-foot grocery store project included government grants and philanthropic support to get it off the ground, and the roughly $5.5 million project included a regular full-scale commercial aspect and a non-commercial aspect aimed at helping communities go beyond what service grocery stores offer. Johnson said that the store has fulfilled one of its goals of providing fresh produce to underserved communities, and that the number of produce items sold each month continues to increase.

The plans to expand the Oasis Fresh Market model into four more underserved areas have stalled after the state legislature passed legislation. Oasis sought funding to build four more Oasis stores, but its request for $30 million in funds for the American Relief Plan Act was not granted. The project ran into a deadlock amid concerns about the leadership of the nonprofit.

Some concerns are highlighted in an article from the online publication Nondoc, where some members of Oasis’ nonprofit division said they were surprised to find they were listed as board members when contacted by the publication. Johnson dismissed claims that nonprofit workers may work for profit in grocery stores. Asked why this grocery store is succeeding when others around the corner are failing, Council member Vanessa Hall Harper said that Oasis “does more than just provide food for people,” and has built relationships with members of the community.

Overall, the Oasis Fresh Market project has been a success, and its CEO Rose Washington-Jones said in an interview with Tulsa World that “any successful business owner” would do what AJ has done by connecting with the community and providing what is needed in a tough economic environment. Johnson said that there are more benefits to hiring from the community, and that high schoolers who work at Oasis and are given opportunities they never knew existed, which is reassuring.

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