It doesn't take long for visitors to see the stories the southside of Muncie has when they notice the neighborhood's appearance, said Kory Gipson, co-owner of the Common Market.
“It's undesirable,” Gipson said. “Nobody wants to be down here because when you get down here, it’s rough. Nobody really takes care of the outside of their businesses.”
Before moving to Muncie, Gipson grew up in Fairmount, Indiana. Although Fairmount is not as poverty stricken as Muncie, Gipson said, he thinks the strong ties to the community is one of the beautiful things about Muncie.
“One of the things that happens with poverty is that it's a stabilizing thing where once people are so poor, it doesn't matter,” Gipson said. “People aren't focusing on skin color, race and gender. It’s actually a really cool community.”
In March 2020, Gipson was asked by his business partner and friend, Mike Martin, to come to the southside of Muncie to see his new project. Now, Gipson is the project manager of Martin’s company, The Plank Brothers, where they focus on creating community resources out of a for-profit concept.
“Once I started working on [the Common Market], I could see how well it was built to serve the community,” Gipson said. “I got to know the community in the Avondale neighborhood and became engaged in the activism aspect of our mission, and I’ve never looked back.”
As a resident and business owner on the southside, Gipson said he noticed when the local economy began declining, the separation of classes between the north and south sides of Muncie became further defined.
“People love running into one another while out shopping,” Gipson said. “They know each other's families and have strong ties to growing up here. Although a natural consequence, [separation of economic classes] definitely affected the access to resources and impacted the overall quality of life here.”
Located on 900 W. 8th St., Gipson said the Common Market was very cheap when he and Martin purchased the space in 2016.
“Real estate on this side of town is considerably cheaper, making our ability to become sustainable easier,” Gipson said. “[The Plank Brothers] have three properties on this side of town overall and can maintain the cost because it’s affordable.”
Jim Cassudakis, Common Market customer, first came to the Common Market last June on a recommendation from a friend. There, he met Gipson and the other owners, Mike and Jerry Martin. Cassudakis said he needs to have a nice, cozy place for a cup of coffee with people in his community and the Common Market fits the bill.
“[Kory, Mike and Jerry] have the vision — they have everything I value as far as a place where I feel not only at home, but I can make purchases and I can hang out,” Cassudakis said. “Their vision and life purpose are similar to mine.”
Cassudakis said if anyone is looking for a way to support the southside of Muncie, the Common Market is the place to go.
“It's an open-minded safe haven and a place that has people in mind, not business,” Cassudakis said.
Last September, Bridges Community Services,a homeless housing organization down the road from the Common Market, closed due to lack of funding. According to Indiana Public Radio, agencies like A Better Way, the YWCA and the Muncie Mission have agreed to continue to provide service for Bridges’ clients.
Gipson said the community’s homelessness problem has worsened since the 25-year-old organization shut down.
“There aren't resources around us that are prepared to fix this kind of problem,” Gipson said. “We're getting ready to see a gigantic jump, and probably, it'll be a jump in drug use and drug distribution and all the other problems that go with that.”
Building a relationship with other business owners on the southside of Muncie has been one of Gipson’s missions ever since he and his wife, Elysia, became co-owners of The Common Market.
This past June, Gipson joined BNI Central Indiana, an international business networking organization providing an environment for business owners to develop personal relationships with dozens of other qualified business professionals.
Because of BNI, Gipson and other Muncie business owners started their own organization, People That Give A Damn. The organization meets at 11 a.m. on Fridays at the Common Market to figure out ways to make changes in the community that will be sustainable, long-lasting and can stand up to economic disasters.
“It’s other business owners that want to try to figure out and ask questions like, ‘What is the next step? What is it that we can do to make a sustainable difference?’” Gipson said. “It's important because we [are] not going to be able to run this forever. There is going to come a time where I won't have time to do it and we hope to be able to pass it on to generations after us."
Robb Riley, co-founder of People That Give A Damn and member of BNI, met Gipson when he came to the group wanting to connect with other businesses. Riley said in order for the group to evolve, more people should join the cause.
“[We need] people that are not just going to come and visit once but people that want to make this a part of their routine,” Riley said. “The more hands that we have involved in this, the better ideas we get, and more people we have actually do things in the area.”
Because the southside is considered a neighborhood with no representation, Gipson said, there are not a lot of people interested in fixing the rising homelessness and addiction problems the community currently faces.
As poverty is a “daunting problem” and there is no drug rehab facility on the southside of Muncie, Gipson said it’s a $10 million project no one wants to raise the funds to fix.
“That’s getting your hands dirty, and it doesn't seem like that's the first direction people want to go,” Gipson said. “There are people here fighting for it, but we are talking about millions of dollars of infrastructure that would need to be created to handle that kind of problem.”
As a project manager for The Plank Brothers, one of the things Gipson focuses on for his project is taking a for-profit concept and then creating community resources. Gipson said the Common Market’s first goal was to provide a safe location for people to get food.
“The very first problem that we understood existed here was safe access to food, so that's why the first project was a convenience store,” Gipson said.
A way for the Muncie community to be productive against the current homelessness problem is to provide jobs for community members and financial literacy training as a way to educate people on basic finances.
“Every one of these profit centers that we can get running, that's about 20 jobs that we can offer to the neighborhood,” Gipson said. “Through that, we can create training, leadership and education programs. When you start to take your neighbors, and turn them into homeowners, and if you can also give them employment, that's how we see making this turnaround happen for people.”
Gipson said the Common Market is currently in the process of installing a handicapped accessible bathroom and adding a kitchen to serve hot food to the community. This will eventually become an artist/entrepreneur co-op where community members can host meetings, teach classes and rent space for whatever they need. The goal, Gipson said, is to provide for the people in the Muncie community who need it the most.
“Being a store owner, I engage with a lot of people and since part of our model involves being problem-solvers,” Gipson said, “we end up building strong relationships with our neighbors and taking on a responsibility that means taking care of people.”
Contact Sumayyah Muhammad with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @sumayyah0114.