Rory’s Market and Kitchen opened in downtown Providence Sept. 23, bringing fresh produce to the heart of the city and expanding food accessibility as the sole grocery store located downtown.
Spanning more than 6,000 feet on the ground floor of Washington Street’s Nightingale building, the grocery store serves “a variety of natural and specialty grocery staples” as well as “made-to-order and grab-and-go breakfasts, lunches and dinners,” according to a press release. Shoppers can make purchases in person or order online for pick-up or delivery any day, with both the store and kitchen open seven days a week.
“The reception we’ve gotten, just based on the amount of produce and fresh food we have, has been really welcoming, and people are really excited to get what they need,” said Rory Eames, CEO and store owner.
While the lack of grocery stores highlights issues surrounding food accessibility in downtown Providence, Thea Upham, director of programs and operations at Farm Fresh Rhode Island, said it is not possible to determine whether the area officially qualifies as a “food desert” due to limitations on available census data.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines a food desert as an area with low access to fresh produce. To qualify as a desert, the neighborhood must be low-income and have no grocery stores within a one-mile radius. According to 2019 USDA data, downtown Providence is a low-income area with relatively low food access, though this is a disputed designation.
According to WPRI-12, the opening of Rory’s — as well as plans for a Trader Joe’s store to open in Fox Point later this year — means downtown Providence no longer qualifies as a food desert.
But data about access is difficult to collect and interpret, according to Upham. While Rory’s is the first grocery store to open in the area, the median income of a household in downtown Providence is just under $100,000, making it a higher-earning area of the city, which has a median income of under $50,000.
Though the opening of Rory’s will create access to fresh food in an area with few options, the factor of affordability must be taken into consideration when determining food access, said Dawn King, director of undergraduate studies at the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society. “There is a lot of critique for places like Rory’s who are making claims of increasing access when there is no way that somebody on low income could afford a single thing in that market,” she said.
Eames, who additionally owns the other two Rory’s stores on Cape Cod, hopes to cater the store to “as big of a group as possible, anyone from students to young families to single professionals to retirees,” she said. “The way we look at it is that there is a lot of opportunity to serve people here.”
Cape Cod, like downtown Providence, is an area that houses predominantly higher-income families, and Rory’s aesthetics and products are designed to serve those populations, King said.
The stores’ landlord in Massachusetts also owns their new property in Providence, so their established working relationship allowed for an easy transition out of state. “When we were looking to branch out into a more year-round community, because the Cape is really seasonal, this opportunity came up,” Eames said.
Even with best intentions, food access is difficult for businesses to cater toward, King said. “They do their research, and sometimes they realize … how difficult it is to make a profit if you’re not in a really high income neighborhood if you can’t charge seven dollars for a dozen eggs,” King explained. “The real estate prices are high downtown.”
Nevertheless, the opening of Rory’s — or any grocery store, in any neighborhood — will most likely benefit overall access in the city, Upham said. “Food systems are really complex … but more is always better.”
Liliana Greyf is a senior staff writer covering College Hill, Fox Point and the Jewelry District, and Brown's relationship with Providence. She is a freshman studying Literary Arts and a proponent of most pickled vegetables.