The sight of golden mangos and plump pears stopped Bronzeville resident Zion Forbes as he stepped off the L at 51st Street on Wednesday.
Forbes, who has lived in Bronzeville for 25 years, said he has never seen a place like Boxville, an outdoor market next to the Green Line stop.
“You can buy food that’s actually clean here,” he said of the market, which bustled with residents buying fruits and vegetables, listening to music and browsing Bronzeville-themed apparel in the hot July sun.
“I hope this grows,” Forbes said. “I feel like this will change the neighborhood.”
Boxville, made up of brightly-colored shipping containers inhabited by food and retail vendors, opened June 21. Bernard Loyd, president of the community development group Urban Junction, is heading the project to gather the “very best of Bronzeville retail, entrepreneurship and culture in one place,” while also solving a food access problem in the community.
Boxville features food from the Produce Box, Green City Market and Hyde Park Produce, vintage clothing pop-up stores such as Chicago-based Aplomb and live DJ performances. It’s open on Wednesdays from 4 to 7 p.m., but Loyd said hours will be expanded to other days throughout the summer.
To promote the project, a pop-up Boxville also will appear on the Chicago Riverwalk this Saturday from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., Loyd said. Nearly 20 vendors will sell merchandise in a tent provided by Cyrano’s Café on the Riverwalk, between Michigan Avenue and Columbus Drive.
Boxville is partnership among Loyd, Green City Market and Corey Gilkey, founder of Chicago-based urban sneaker shop Leaders 1354. Gilkey is also bringing Friistyle, a french fry shop, to the market.
“Food brings people together, and food is a huge unmet need in this community,” Loyd said. “Around food is all this creativity. Be it fashion, be it music, there’s so much creativity in this community that doesn’t have outlets.”
In a 2014 survey of Bronzeville residents, 83 percent of survey respondents indicated they had difficulty getting to places to buy or receive food. The study was conducted by Centers for New Horizons, a Chicago social services organization.
Mariano’s and Hyde Park Produce are a few miles away for Bronzeville residents, said Loyd, compared to Lincoln Park, where “you could go to a dozen different places within an eighth of a mile and find all these things.”
The Produce Box, which also matches up to $15 in Link Cards, aims to ease the “daily burdens” that being in a food desert places on some Bronzeville residents, said Melissa Flynn, executive director of Green City Market.
“No community should not have access to healthy food,” Flynn said. “It’s hard to learn when you’re hungry … It’s challenging for senior citizens to get on public transportation to go grocery shopping.”
Boxville’s location next to a Green Line stop is perfect, Loyd said. In an area with limited access to fresh produce, he figures some Produce Box shoppers will come via the L — not to mention all the customers within walking distance.
One customer, Johnny Gordon, gave Boxville a thumbs-up earlier this week.
“So far I like what I see,” Gordon said as he browsed through the blueberries.
Gordon said he has lived in the Englewood and Bronzeville areas since 1959 — and, like Forbes, has never seen anything like Boxville.
Boxville also offers artists access to “the rawness of urban community” in Bronzeville, Gilkey said. The development is creating jobs — and entrepreneurs — by “listening” to the community and providing a “platform for the independent creative,” he said.
“No one is doing it in the inner city like we are,” he said. “You see all different walks of life working together, coming together.”
Mekari Cogdell, 19, is interning at Boxville this summer, helping sell Bronzeville-themed apparel created by Leaders 1354.
She points down the street, where there’s a solitary liquor store.
“It’s kind of empty, and this adds some color,” she said. “When people wear the shirts, they can be like, ‘I’m from Bronzeville.’”