Come October, Patten Towers may be the go-to place for breakfast and coffee, and it all started with a game of bingo.
Bingo's Market at Patten Towers will be a small corner store on the ground floor of the 11-story downtown apartment building home to many disabled, low-income residents. Its goal is to offer fresh produce, grocery staples, healthy grab-and-go breakfast and lunch items, coffee and other things at affordable prices.
Bonita Bishop, one of the about 200 residents who live there, said she hopes the market can help change the stigma surrounding Patten Towers, located at 1 E. 11th St.
"I don't know what kind of bad thoughts they have, but I can tell by the way they look," she said of the people who walk by the building each day. "If they have children, they're grabbing their children or they're almost out in the street."
Bishop sits outside the building almost every day and sees that kind of reaction two or more times a week. She said it offends her sometimes, but she hopes the store "will improve that relationship and show them that everyone is not the same."
Bingo's Market is a project taken on by local nonprofit agency Causeway, in partnership with other organizations in the Innovation District. Abby Garrison, executive director for Causeway, said the project has been in the works for more than a year. She said Causeway and the other organizations felt a sense of tension between the Edney Building, the hub of the Innovation District, and Patten Towers across the street.
"This really cool, hip, innovative building with all of these resources being poured into it sits across from this building that has so much baggage attached to it," she said. "So, we decided to look at it as an opportunity and Patten Towers residents as our neighbors and embrace it and figure out how we can improve the situation."
Garrison said to begin with they didn't know much about the people who lived there other than what the public knew based on what had been in the news.
"But we saw these people every day on the sidewalk and knew that there was more to it," she said. So Causeway employees started working informally with the building's program manager to get to know the residents.
"It sounds kind of silly, but we started hosting bingo games," Garrison said. "The residents would come down and our staff would go over there, and we would just play bingo and have prizes and food. We just started building a relationship with people who lived there."
As that relationship developed, they learned of other needs the residents had, such as access to basic health care services and food. Additionally, they learned most residents lived on under $500 per month, and one fifth lived on no income at all. Most residents also don't have cars, so just going to the grocery store can be a huge obstacle, Garrison said.
The model for Bingo's Market is based on the YMCA's Mobile Market, which comes to Patten Towers once a week.
"It's a way to replace the Mobile Market because it's only there for one day for two hours," said Bill Rush, project manager of the local Pioneering Health Communities initiative for the YMCA.
Rush said the YMCA will have a volunteer day on Sept. 15 to help paint the area in which the store will go. They'll be installing new ceiling tiles, cabinets and removing the tint from the windows in preparation for the store's grand opening.
"We're excited to see if we can cultivate a culture bringing people together to be supportive of a startup opportunity," Rush said. "And if we can build a successful model, then this may be an answer to some of our food insecurities within our food desert communities."
But for the store to be successful, it needs business from both residents and people who live and work in the Innovation District and nearby. In order to gain funding and secure business, a campaign is being launched today to presell gift cards that can be used when the store opens next month. A link to the campaign can be found on Causeway's website, causeway.org.
"The money you give to this campaign is not a donation," the campaign's crowdfunding page states. " That's because we do not just need your initial support for this store; we need you to make Bingo's Market part of your every-day routine."
The store will be open for a six-month pilot period in which organizers hope it will become financially self-sustaining. If it's a success, it will be turned over to a local entrepreneur to manage as their business.
"The tagline is 'Where Everyone Wins' because it doesn't matter your income or your background, there's something for you to buy that you need in your pantry," Garrison said, adding that project managers worked with design professors from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga to conduct focus groups to come up with the design and feel for the store's brand.
"We're going to put everything we can into those first six months to show it's building momentum," she said.