After decades without a grocer, Millvale Market has the neighborhood buzzing

click to enlarge A man and woman stand across from each other in front of a brick facade as they pose and smile for the camera.
Photo: Courtesy of Millvale Market
Derek Dumont (left) and Jen Saffron (right) of Millvale Market
Millvale has yearned for an accessible grocery store within its heavily residential community. Jen Saffron realized this once she set up the social media accounts for Millvale Market, a small business she and business partner Derek Dumont will open this month.

"It's hard to explain the degree to which people want this," Saffron tells Pittsburgh City Paper. "We haven't even opened our doors and we have 1,200 people following us on Instagram. There are only 3,800 people who live in Millvale."

Touted in a release as the neighborhood's first grocery in decades (the last business of its kind, Plute’s, shut down around 20 years ago), Millvale Market will sell fresh produce, prepared foods, grocery staples, coffee drinks, and more out of a spot on 24 Grant Avenue. A Community Day soft opening on Sun., Jan. 29 will welcome guests with deals on produce and free coffee.

From there, Millvale Market will have regular business hours from Tuesday through Saturday.

The market signals continuing growth for Millvale, a flood-prone borough that was once a hub for the city's industrial workers. With the help of initiatives like the Triboro Ecodistrict development plan, it has welcomed a number of new businesses, including breweries, cafes, pizzerias, and smoke shops.

It has also grown a reputation as a gem in the city's arts scene, with attractions like the concert venue Mr. Smalls, the annual Millvale Music Festival, and the stunning murals housed within its St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church.

Saffron, who also owns the Millvale-based Italian restaurant Sprezzatura, says she met Dumont when he worked as a buyer for Harvie, a delivery service focused on grocery boxes consisting of locally grown or made food.

"He came to me and was like, 'You know, I heard about your food, and I heard it was really good, and I would like to talk with you about selling some of it to Harvie,'" she says. From there, she says they began talking and realized they shared an interest in the model behind Bi-Rite, a grocery store chain in San Franciso, Cali. committed to buying, hiring, and connecting on a local level.

"And I thought to myself, why don't we have more of these kinds of neighborhood groceries in Pittsburgh?" she continues. "And furthermore, through the lens of COVID here in Millville, you know, we were such witness to food insecurity issues in our moderate-income community. I thought, one of the things that's really missing here is a grocery store."
click to enlarge A selection of fresh, colorful produce is carefully arranged on a stand outside a market.
Photo: Courtesy of Millvale Market
Produce at Millvale Market
Since first submitting the idea for Millvale Market in 2021, Saffron says they received support from major funders like the Kiva microfinance company and The Food Trust, a nonprofit organization based in Philadelphia, Pa., as well as Bridgeway Capital, a group that boosts various projects across the Pittsburgh region.

She adds that a central market would benefit a place like Millvale, a "walking community" that lacks adequate public transportation to the nearest supermarket, a Shop 'n Save located several miles away in Shaler. They already applied to accept EBT and other public assistance as a way to make products even more accessible to shoppers.

In the coming months, Saffron and Dumont plan on expanding offerings to include gluten-free, vegan, and organic foods.

Millvale Market promises other perks, the main one being fresh produce sourced from all local farms. In a statement, Dumost says that Millvale Market seeks to "fill the overwhelming void of fresh, healthy food choices" in the neighborhood.

"Our offering will place an emphasis on being well-balanced and approachable to all while strengthening our collective foodways in Millvale," he adds.

Similar to the Bi-Rite model, Saffron says much of their staff live in Millvale. One exception is Dave Rath, an experienced grocer brought on as the store's general manager. Raht says he has spent a large amount of time in Millvale over the past several years as part of kitchen settings, music rehearsals, and performances.

"Over this time I have been charmed time and time again by the strong-and-still-growing sense of community, and I am thrilled to be given this opportunity to directly interface with the people of Millvale," he says. "I am excited to continue learning about what makes Millvale so unique, and to share a business district with so many of my favorite local services and retailers.” 

Millvale Market Community Day. 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sun., Jan. 29. 524 Grant Ave., Millvale. Free.