Picture yourself lovingly grinding your own peanut butter on one of the major streets in downtown Harrisburg.
Not on the actual street, mind you, but in Provisions, the just-opened, 2,000-plus-square-foot grocery store on the 3rd Street side of Strawberry Square. Sound far-fetched, or even a little nutty? Think again.
Make your own nut butter is just one of the many offerings available at Provisions, the brainchild of Shaun Donovan and Adam Porter. The two met several years ago through the Harrisburg Regional Chamber, but the idea for a brick-and-mortar grocery store coalesced as Porter helped Donovan set up a website for his online business, Appalachian Organics, which specializes in natural and organic health and beauty products, as well as food, household staples and even an extensive gluten-free section.
Once the pair teamed up to create Provisions, they focused on developing a viable business plan. While they knew they wanted to open the store in downtown or Midtown Harrisburg, finding a location that offered sufficient space at an affordable price turned out to be one of the biggest challenges. Aligning funding proved to be another hurdle.
“It was a process,” Donovan admits, laughing softly.
Ultimately, it came down to being able to articulate to potential funders the “why” in their business plan.
“Being able to tell a community story and how it’s going to benefit the neighborhood—that was really important,” says Donovan.
The two utilized a range of resources to help ensure they were considering every detail, including the Small Business Development Center out of Kutztown and owners of similarly structured stores in Denver, Colo., and Austin, Texas.
Speaking of the business model, one of the most interesting characteristics of Provisions is that it doesn’t mirror your average grocery store. Though customers can expect to find all the usual culinary and household staples, 75 percent of the store’s footprint is dedicated to bulk food offerings. When people hear “bulk,” many think of value-focused warehouse stores like Sam’s Club or Costco.
“Think, the candy aisle, not Costco,” Porter clarifies, chuckling.
Rather than shelves, customers discover gravity bins and containers with scoops. If you like, you can even bring your own containers, though some are available in-store for purchase, should you have lost the inevitable two or three lids from your extensive Tupperware collection. Dairy, produce and meat comprise the other 25 percent through local and PA-based producers like Trickling Springs Creamery in Chambersburg and Four Seasons Produce out of Lancaster County.
The reason for this non-traditional model? Porter and Donovan aim to hit an eventual zero-waste mark.
“The amount of waste created from food packaging is appalling,” Porter notes.
From a financial standpoint, they explain, packaging drastically increases the cost of food. In fact, depending on what products a customer buys, Donovan estimates that they can save anywhere from 30 to 60 percent on their weekly grocery bill. When you remove added costs like packaging and transport, natural and organic products—which tend to skew slightly higher in price—become much more affordable. In addition to the environmental aspect, the two cite an overarching goal to bring affordable, healthy food to downtown Harrisburg.
The intended Provisions customer base is within a 10-minute radius (by foot).
“If you need two cups of flour, you can buy just two cups of flour,” Porter explains, another bonus of the bulk model. “If the in-laws show up, or friends come over, or even if you travel a lot for work and only need breakfast for tomorrow morning.”
For those who work downtown but are not city residents, Porter and Donovan believe they can help these people save a considerable amount of time. They point out that, by shopping over the lunch hour or right after work, customers can alleviate the additional half-hour-plus required to drive to and shop at a traditional, suburban grocery store on their way home from work.
An added bonus: Customers can draw upon Appalachian Organics’ existing online system and network of vendors to access more products and varying quantities. So, if you want to buy an entire box of paper towels rather than just one or two, you can purchase it in-store and have it shipped to your house, or order it online and pick it up on site.
Going forward, Porter and Donovan intend to offer a variety of in-store events, demos, “meet the farmer” days, product samplings and cooking tutorials. They’ll also partner with local chefs to produce recipe cards highlighting ingredients featured in the store so that customers can learn about healthy cooking practices and glean new ideas for seasonal ingredients or those that are a tad less common (e.g. amaranth flour).
The pair’s enthusiasm for Provisions is apparent, but both turn coy when pressed on what foods they’re most excited to offer. Finally, Porter relents.
“I’m excited to carry stuff that I don’t even know what it is yet,” he says.
He speaks of culinary school and time spent as a chef as the underpinnings to this passion.
“I love learning about various cultures,” he says. “There’s a whole world of food out there, and I’m excited to dive in and share it with people.”
Provisions is located at 15-17 N. 3rd St., Harrisburg. Hours are Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, call 717-236-5700 or visit provisionshbg.com.