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OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — A food desert on the east side of Oklahoma City has been interrupted by the opening of a new built-from-the-ground-up, full-service Homeland at N.E. 36th and Lincoln Boulevard.

The store opens about two months ahead of the announced plan and within budget.

Every speaker at the formal opening and those who talked to Free Press afterward showed an unusual level of emotion for the opening of a grocery store.

“My heart is full,” Oklahoma City Ward 7 Councilor Nikki Nice told Free Press afterward. “I am overjoyed. I mean, it’s a lot. It’s a happy feeling clearly, that our community can now stay in the community.” Previously, the closest full-service grocery with fresh meat, vegetables and produce was at N.W. 16th and Classen Boulevard.

It has taken decades to pull together the right resources and the right grocery company to make the development happen in a community that has seen very little investment for the people who are living in it right now.

OKC Ward 7 Councilor Nikki Nice told the crowd at the Homeland opening “I grew up right over there.” (BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

Four Ward 7 City Councilors had worked toward the day. In her speech at the opening Nice recognized former Ward 7 City Councilor Willa Johnson who was present along with former Ward 7 Councilor John Pettis, Jr. and Skip Kelley, who also served in the post over the entire time it took to get a new grocery store on the east side.

To learn more about the store: Much-anticipated Homeland at 36th-Lincoln to open Wednesday, Sept 1

Emotional point in time

People who normally are models of composure during presentations had to stop during their comments Wednesday to regain their composure before moving on.

Cathy O’Connor, president and CEO of the Alliance for Economic Development, has consistently turned in professional, just-the-facts presentations at the many business openings that she has facilitated and in front of the Oklahoma City Council.

But, much to this reporter’s surprise, even O’Connor seemed to slightly choke on emotion at the very end of her public remarks. It was so remarkable that I had to double check with her later once the store was open. She confirmed that she did choke on emotion at this opening.

Cathy O’Connor, President and CEO of The Alliance for Economic Development was a key coordinator in pulling together different government entities and investors. (BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

Marc Jones, president and CEO of HAC, Inc. the corporate name of the Homeland company, was somber at several moments in the opening as he looked out on the large crowd of people that he said he recognized from the nearby community.

Afterward, we asked Jones how it felt to arrive at that moment during the official store opening.

“It felt overwhelming, to be honest. I feel very honored,” he said. “It was just a wonderful, wonderful moment. And now to see them all inside the store exploring the store, I’m just eager to hear their thoughts and opinions and requests and, and just very, very honored that everybody would come out.”

Marc Jones, president and CEO of Homeland (HAC., Inc.) the employee-owned grocery chain that agreed to put in a full-service grocery. (BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

Mayor David Holt was effusive during the program and then later when he talked to us as he toured the store. “This is one of the happiest days of my entire time as mayor,” he said.

Holt acknowledged the “thousands” of people who made contributions to the process of developing the store, especially current Ward 7 Councilor Nikki Nice but also the others who served in that post before her.

“Now, we get to see the smiling faces of the members of this community walking into the store and it’s a beautiful thing,” he said.

We talked to Representative Jason Lowe, HD-97, whose constituents are neighbors of the store about the significance of the opening.

“This has been a long fight for Councilwoman Nikki Nice and also John Pettis,” said Lowe. “They began the process. They’ve been fighting for the store for years and years and years, just fighting against a food desert and now it’s over.”

Closer to home

One big aspect of the 30,000-foot store opening on the east side is the proximity to some in the population who find it daunting to take an hour bus ride to the nearest full-service grocery.

And, even those who are young and can drive, like Lakiesha Braggs, being able to shop in the same neighborhood where she lives will be a game-changer.

People crowd up at the check-out of the newsly-opened Homeland store Wednesday, 9-1-21. (BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

“I used to drive to May and Britain [approx. ten miles away] to get to the grocery store,” said Braggs. “But, now we only have to come around the corner. So it’s very convenient.”

She continued, “It’s exciting. Not only for me, but for other people that don’t have the transportation to get here. So, it’s exciting just to see something nice and appealing and clean for people to see.”

She said she was excited about some of the local, well-known food service vendors who are moving into spaces in the deli and ready-to-eat section of the store.

She was especially excited about Leo’s Barbeque. “I saw that today and I’m going to get me some strawberry-banana cake!”

Gallery of inside the store on the first day:

Last Updated September 2, 2021, 8:06 AM by Brett Dickerson – Editor