Ocmulgee Traders is making history in downtown Macon as the only grocery store in downtown. This new urban market has been in the works for almost two years now, and has finally found its home in the Dannenberg Building on Third Street. Owned by Steve Bell and his wife Laura Bell, this new grocery store will meet a need that has been around for almost 30 years, said Bell. Bell believes Ocmulgee Traders to be the first ever grocery store in Georgia to be included in a building along with loft residential areas.
“A larger grocer wouldn’t come down because it doesn’t fit their model, but it does fit our model because we built the model to fit the community,” said Bell on Thursday at a press conference just outside the new location. This location, for him, was perfect. “We’ve got 100 people living above us, we’ve got all the loft developments and we’re going to be sustaining all the growth in downtown.”
Exclusive products such as organic and regional foods and the family-friendly atmosphere set it apart from large chains. With over 2,500 fans on Facebook, the community expressed a high demand for Ocmulgee Traders by showing their excitement for this new development on the store’s page. Residents of the local lofts have left suggestions for products to carry and even sent their resumes in to Bell. “We’ve been so overwhelmed with support from friends, standing by us as we make those little steps towards the finish line,” said Bell. He hopes that with the opening of the store, the rapport that has already been established over the Facebook page will roll over into the personal interactions. “Besides making it a grocery store, we’re making it a destination.”
The products aren’t the only things that make this store more community friendly. With three split levels, Ocmulgee Traders will offer a restaurant and coffee shop to shoppers. The top level will include the restaurant and deli area, as well as a coffee area, while the lower level will be where the community can pick up their essential foods. The building will also have an old-school look, said architect Gene Dunwoody Jr. “We’re repurposing a lot of the materials in the building, like the old tables from the old Dannenberg store.” At 5,247 square feet, the building is about a quarter the size of Kroger, or half the size of CVS, but will have a more varied selection and more convenient location than either of these chain stores.
“The success of this business will demonstrate that downtown is a lot more viable than people think,” said current Macon city councilman Rabbi Larry Schlesinger. “All of us have a stake in the success of this business.” Construction within the building started last Tuesday, and Dunwoody projects that the store will be completely finished by the end of the year. “It’s going to go really fast.”
The grocery store is only a few blocks from Mercer’s campus and is along the normal trolley route. Having Ocmulgee Traders so close will offer students easy access to organic, local and healthy food options that they might not be able to find at Kroger.