Newark’s ?uestion Mart: Answers and Local Food for Local People

Passers by are doing double takes as they spot the striking facade of 392 Broad Street near Aspira Association  and just steps from the Broad Street station. Even though they just opened their doors just about a month ago,    ?uestion Mart is already providing the answer to the common conundrum of where to find fresh, organic, and local produce in Newark. In fact, it took less than two weeks for the first 100 customers to come in to receive their reusable ?uestion Mart shopping bags.

Readers of the Sustainability Office blog know Greater Newark Conservancy’s Court Street Urban Farm and Youth Farmstand provide Newark-grown produce grown sustainably (they don’t have an organic certification).  Garden State Urban Farms also uses sustainable methods to grow in Newark and sells outside at their farmstand on Lyons Avenue and inside Beth Israel.  But as of today only ?uestion Mart sells local, organic produce plus other staples including milk, bananas, butter, bacon, and household paper goods in Newark every day. ?uestion Mart is open 10 am -7pm seven days a week.

Wide-eyed customers with jaws agape remark, “I’m in shock.” “We get that all the time,” says Kay. She assures the customers that they’ll get used to having ?uestion Mart in the community and diligently solicits each patron to find out if there is anything they couldn’t find in the store so she can add it to their inventory.  ?uestion Mart was dreamed up by Newark residents Kay Lewis and Alex Estrada two years ago. They knew they weren’t the only Newarkers asking themselves where they could find affordable, quality produce without having to take multiple forms of transportation or drive outside of the city. After spending what spare time they could find (they both have other jobs and are proud parents of a 9-month old Xander Estrada) working on a business model, raising capital, doing market research, and finding vendors and producers, ?uestion Mart is starting to create a buzz in the city.

Just a few minutes inside ?uestion Mart transports you to a veritable fruit and vegetable oasis complete with a soothing waterfall, aromatic tropical fruits like mangoes and guavas and local produce such as lettuce and mushrooms.   Alex excitedly points out produce from Chesterfield, NJ.  “Look at these cherry tomatoes, butternut squash, and peppers!”  I spent some time chatting with Kay and Alex in ?uestion Mart:

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  • What does the name ?uestion Mart mean? We had a lot of time to consider the name while going through construction, permits, and contacting vendors. We decided that the name was good fit for the statement we are trying to make. Besides, the logo just looks so cool on paper and on the sign! The name is a statement and question all in one.
  • What makes ?uestion Mart unique? More and more we get requests for rare fruits and veggies from other countries and it’s exciting to find these items and have the customers stop by and see their native fruit or vegetable. And I believe this is how we separate ourselves from the typical grocery store: we make it our business to keep the customers happy and give them service they can not find anywhere else. We have products from the West Indies, from Central America and we’re currently on the search for cheese from France for a customer that has to buy in NYC for $15, even though it only costs $2 in his home town.
  • Why do you think there aren’t any grocery stores like ?uestion Mart in Newark? It comes down to what people with money choose to do, where they invest their money, and where they see value. Right now few seem to be interested in providing quality products in this area.  We personally believe it’s about to change but only if the community invests in one another and does not wait or depend on others.  This is why we decided to open the store, because no one else would.  Why should we waste our gas traveling 20-25 miles to other cities to buy fruits and vegetables when the solutions are here all along?  We don’t presume to have all the answers but our goal is to find the answers. And when we supply our valued customers with the products they like to see in the store, sell them at a price point they can afford in a clean environment, we feel that the community will support us and the experience will be pleasant every single time.
  • What kind of experience do you want Newarkers to have in ?uestion Mart? Our slogan is: Answering Your “Healthy” Needs and that is exactly what we like to do for the community. We want to give the community most, if not all, they desire and deserve.  Not because of where they are but because of who they are: just people who deserve to live a healthy and balanced life without having to travel outside of our community or shop near their jobs in NYC to do so.  Everyone that comes in the store for the first time always has the same reaction: surprise and disbelief. At the same time they are also very happy to have a  store that they can be proud to call their neighborhood store because we are a true market with quality fresh fruits and vegetables.  We want Newarkers to know we are here and make food available to them at a price that is reasonable for all of us. You don’t have to shop anywhere else to get the experience of a natural, organic store because we are here in your neighborhood.

?uestion Mart is accessible via New Jersey Transit Bus Lines: 11, 13, 27, 28, 29, 30, 41, 72, 76, 78, 108, 378 and the Montclair-Boonton and Morris-Essex Line Trains at Broad Street and the Light Rail.  You can reach them (973) 350-0030 seven days a week between 10 am and 7 pm.

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