Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca, who spent her childhood in the Elyria-Swansea neighborhood, began working vigilantly in 2020 to provide solutions for the area’s food scarcity problem because she wanted her constituents to have easier access to fresh food than she did growing up. During the turbulent months of the pandemic, CdeBaca’s efforts, along with a resilient community, resulted in the formation of several groups to address the neighborhood’s lack of access to healthy food.
The Elyria-Swansea neighborhood is one of the oldest food deserts in Denver, meaning that at least 33% of residents struggle to find access to fresh, healthy food – something we all deserve. The Noir Market Co-op, run by the father-daughter duo of Shabasa and Anjanet Sayers, is a biweekly Saturday pop-up market located on East 48th and Vine Street. The outdoor market will soon move into the corner building on 48th to become Elyria-Swansea’s first grocery store since the 1960s.
“We couldn’t wait for nonprofits to solve our problems, or private-sector grocers to get to the right populations,” Councilwoman CdeBaca said in an interview.
This mindset sparked the creation of several food desert solutions, including the East Denver Food Hub, which is now Noir Market’s primary produce vendor. Founded by David Demerling and Roberto Meza, it serves as a distributor for local farmers who want to bring their produce into food deserts. Not only does it provide easier access to fresh food for the whole community, but the East Denver Food Hub also helps support local farmers and makes their businesses more profitable.
“The idea is that we aggregate local produce for farmers who otherwise wouldn’t be able to come to markets. Sometimes coming to markets requires vendor fees, traveling and setting up which can be cost prohibitive for smaller, local farmers. We’re trying to help them be viable and profitable by selling and distributing their produce for them,” says Al, who is Noir Market’s distributor for East Denver Food Hub.
Within a few short months after opening, the East Denver Food Hub began participating in events that gave customers the option to “pay-how-they-can.” These events truly made a difference for those who were struggling during a time of scarcity. Shabasa and Anjanet Sayers, used this same business model to form the Montbello Community Market, previously located in the East Denver Foodhub Warehouse.
When the market wasn’t bringing in as much traffic as they had hoped, Shabasa and Anjanet were able to connect with Councilwoman CdeBaca and bring resources from the East Denver Food Hub into the Elyria-Swansea neighborhood and opened Noir Market.
“Councilwoman Candi had seen our market and thought it was an amazing idea. But she told us, ‘Let’s take it somewhere where there is a food desert,” Anjanet said.
Along with giving the community access to healthy food, Noir Market also offers a wide variety of eclectic products from local farmers, chefs, designers, and artisans. Most of all, the market helps cultivate a vibrant and hopeful environment for shoppers and business owners in the area.
Noir Market is lined with around twenty vendor tents, with products ranging from fresh produce and upcycled purses to decorative cupcakes and one-of-a-kind jewelry. Anjanet Sayers is a small business owner herself, running a hand-crafted soap and candle company called Emunah Soaps.
“We’re still going through those growing pains right now, but we are definitely growing,” Anjanet said. “As the coalition is growing, we are encouraging more members of the community to join our co-op, be a part of our decision making, and just build this community up. We want to increase our resources as much as we can. Also, one of my main specialties is helping small businesses grow, getting the word out about them, getting them exposure, and organizing events.”
If someone cannot afford something at Noir Market, Anjanet says, “We will take care of it. When we were doing a market for East Denver Food Hub at Lost City, I got the concept for this market. When we first started, people would spend a few dollars and take a whole lot of what they needed. But, as the season went on, people would literally come back and just throw extra money to show their love…and I believe that that’s what we as people are here to do. God is my savior, my everything, and He ultimately pushed me to do this. I believe we’re called to help our people.”
Individuality and passion spills from each tent and table at Noir Market. Lashay, who makes one of a kind, hand-crafted upcycled fashion pieces, runs a booth at Noir Market with her brother, who also owns his own non-profit called Save Our Street.
“My business is called Redesign by Lashay, and I’ve been doing this for over thirty years. I redesign shoes, clothes, and handbags. I’ve been doing this a long, long time. It is a passion of mine. I started when I was 19, and since then I’ve had three different stores,” Lashay said.
Latisha, who is a certified business coach, nutritionist, and fitness expert, has been a Noir Market vendor since the beginning, and the market has provided her with far more than just a successful business. During her second week, she discovered that a few of the other vendors were her long lost cousins. Her story captures the essence of Noir Market; it operates like a family. At her booth you can find her homemade, cold pressed juices that contain natural healing properties.
“I’ve been in the coaching business since 2013, when I first went on my weight loss journey,” Latisha said. “That’s why I got into coaching, because I know that there are other people out there like me that don’t have anybody who believes in them, but I want to be the one to push them and encourage them.”
Noir Market’s future includes much more than its new grocery store location. According to Anjanet, her family recently purchased land that will eventually become Noir Farms.
Noir Farms, which will be completely open to the public, will offer horseback riding, fishing ponds, and an outdoor kitchen that allows visitors to cook their own fish on site, or have it cut and scaled to take home.
“Our passion is taking fresh food, fresh from the farm and getting it straight to people’s tables. We’re basically just here to feed the people good food,” Anjanet said.