Going “All In” on Waterloo’s East Side with the Iowa Community’s First Grocery Store in 54 Years September 25, 2023

In a Nutshell

What: In a community that has experienced long-term disinvestment, a new, full-service grocery store called All-In-Grocers will provide convenient access to fresh, affordable food, while also bringing a variety of additional resources and amenities to the neighborhood.
Sector: Healthy Foods, Community Development
Location: Waterloo, IA
Size: 28,000 square feet
Cost: $10 million
Sources of Funding/Financing: IFF, Rochdale Capital, Self-Help Credit Union, American Family Insurance Institute for Corporate and Social Impact, Small Business Administration, TruStage Financial Group (formerly CUNA Mutual Group), City of Waterloo
IFF Support: $1.5 million loan closed in December 2021
IFF Staff Lead: Darian Luckett, Director of Lending – Wisconsin and Iowa
Design: Levi Architecture
General Contractor: Huff Contracting
Impact: 60 full-time, part-time, and seasonal jobs created

“When you’re working toward something you believe in and people tell you ‘no,’ what do you after that?” asks Rodney Anderson. “I would tell anyone in that position to have perseverance, find a good team for support, and you’ll walk straight through. You may end up with some scars on you, but those scars come from the teaching moments.”

Anderson has reason to believe in the value of perseverance, having spent much of the last seven years devoted to bringing to life his vision for a 28,000-square-foot development on the east side of Waterloo, Iowa, that represents the single largest investment in the community in decades. Slated to fully open on October 3 – more than five years after the project’s groundbreaking ceremony – the facility will serve as the home of All-In-Grocers, the first full-service grocery store on Waterloo’s east side in 54 years. Located in a neighborhood considered a “food desert” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the store will provide residents with access to fresh, affordable foods; provide employment opportunities for up to 60 members of the community, including citizens returning from incarceration and individuals with disabilities, and bring a slew of additional resources to the neighborhood.

Beyond All-In-Grocers, the facility will include a restaurant called Grandma’s Hands; a self-service laundromat; and the Willie Mae Wright Room, named in honor of a longtime civil rights leader who served as the first Black woman on Waterloo’s city council, which will provide high-quality space for community gatherings and for several nonprofits to expand their programming. Among the organizations planning to operate out of the community room are Road Home, which offers a life skills curriculum to individuals returning to their communities from Iowa prisons to interrupt intergenerational cycles of incarceration, and the 1619 Freedom School – founded by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and Waterloo native Nikole Hannah-Jones – which will use the space as a satellite location for its after-school programming. 1619 Freedom School focuses on intensive literacy instruction for fourth and fifth graders as a means to bridge the academic opportunity gap that exists between white and Black students in Waterloo’s public school system.

“We want the grocery store, restaurant, laundromat, and community room to be an anchor that attracts more investment to the east side for quality housing and other local amenities.”

While the facility will provide tangible benefits to the community, it’s also symbolic of a fresh start for the east side of Waterloo, which has experienced significant disinvestment since riots in the late 1960s catalyzed by longstanding racial inequality resulted in the loss of Black-owned businesses and community infrastructure. Those challenges were exacerbated in the 1980s when several large employers closed factories that had provided job opportunities to residents.

Though all of Waterloo was deeply affected by the losses, the predominantly Black community on the city’s east side bore the brunt of the economic impact as a legacy of redlining and restrictive racial covenants served as a continued drag on development in the area. In 2018, social and economic disparities between the city’s Black and white residents became national news when an online news outlet named Waterloo the single worst place to be Black in the United States. With the opening of the All-In-Grocers facility, Anderson sees an opportunity to inspire hope in the community that meaningful change is possible while redefining how those outside of Waterloo view the city’s east side.

“Economic and community development has in many ways been paralyzed since the late 1960s, and what we want to show is that it is possible to do a project like this,” says Anderson. “Someone needs to go first to demonstrate that and to disprove the perception that, because it hasn’t happened before, it’s never going to happen. We want the grocery store, restaurant, laundromat, and community room to be an anchor that attracts more investment to the east side for quality housing and other local amenities.”

As the first movers in development on the east side of Waterloo, Anderson and his business partner, Lance Dunn, faced an uphill battle to bring All-In-Grocers to fruition – first in attracting the capital needed for the project and then in navigating an array of challenges as construction costs ballooned during the pandemic amid supply chain disruptions that significantly altered the duo’s timeline for development. After struggling to secure financing locally, Anderson and Dunn turned to Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) for key sources of capital for the project. In addition to a $1.5 million loan from IFF that provided working capital to navigate construction challenges and purchase equipment for All-In-Grocers, the facility was developed with loans from Self-Help Credit Union and Rochdale Capital.

“Some financial institutions will give you what you’re asking for, but they’re just as quick to foreclose if there are unexpected hurdles. IFF and our other partners have provided guidance when we needed it and stood by our side without wavering as the project was delayed and the cost increased.”

Together with corporate support from the American Family Insurance Institute for Corporate and Social Impact and TruStage Financial Group (formerly CUNA Mutual Group), and government funding from the City of Waterloo and the Small Business Administration, Anderson and Dunn were able to assemble the $10 million needed to complete the project.

“Our key challenge was convincing lenders to commit to a community that has not seen investment dollars in decades, but it was also critical that we found financial partners who truly understood what we were trying to accomplish and the challenges that needed to be overcome,” says Anderson. “Some financial institutions will give you what you’re asking for, but they’re just as quick to foreclose if there are unexpected hurdles. IFF and our other partners have provided guidance when we needed it and stood by our side without wavering as the project was delayed and the cost increased. You can talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion, but this project is what it looks like to walk the talk.”

Despite the development challenges the pair faced, Anderson and Dunn refused to compromise on the facility itself – recognizing the positive message it would send to the community to follow through on their plans for a high-quality building equipped to stand the test of time in Waterloo. One example of this is fiber-optic cabling installed throughout the facility that will support a state-of-the-art point of sale system for All-In-Grocers, as well as increased digital connectivity elsewhere in the building.

“We had discussions about ways to save money during the buildout of the facility, but we weren’t willing to cut any corners,” says Anderson. “It was important to us to make a statement in the neighborhood to show people that they’re worth it, and it was also important to build a facility that will allow All-In-Grocers to serve the community for generations to come. This is a beacon of light for all of Waterloo.”


A Full-Service Grocery Store and More

  • All-In-Grocers: The full-service grocery store will stock 15,000 to 20,000 culturally relevant products, ensuring that residents of Waterloo’s east side will no longer have to travel outside of their community to access fresh, affordable food. All-In-Grocers will operate seven days a week, from 6:00am to 10:00p, closing only for Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.
  • Grandma’s Hands Restaurant: The 3,600-square-foot restaurant will be able to serve up to 52 dine-in customers at a time, offering home-style meals a grandmother would cook for her family in a nod to the community building nature of the restaurant. Grandma’s Hands will also offer delivery via DoorDash and cater special events, operating seven days a week from 11:00am to 9:00pm.
  • Clean Laundry laundromat: Operated by a third-party franchisee leasing a 2,400-square-foot commercial condo in the facility, Clean Laundry opened in April 2023 and offers a convenient location for Waterloo residents to do their laundry while shopping for household essentials at All-In-Grocers or enjoying a meal at Grandma’s Hands Restaurant. With its lease payments, the laundromat is also providing an extra revenue stream that will support operations at the grocery store and restaurant.
  • Willie Mae Wright Community Room: At 91 years old, Willie Mae Wright has lived in Waterloo for 70 years and made innumerable contributions to the community in roles with the Waterloo Women’s Civic Club, Community Development Board, Jesse Cosby Center, League of Women Voters, and the Waterloo City Council, among other civic service. As the first Black woman elected to the city council, Wright is revered locally for her role in advancing civil rights for the city’s Black community. The 600-square-foot community room that bears her name will enable the 1619 Freedom School to expand to its second location and provide more children with free literacy instruction modeled in part after free community schools launched by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) during the Civil Rights Movement designed to educate Black youth about their history while empowering them to fight oppression. The school’s name is a reference to the year that the first enslaved Africans were sold into the English colonies that later became the United States of America. The school’s founder, Waterloo native Nikole Hannah-Jones, won a Pulitzer Prize in 2020 for her creation of The 1619 Project – a series of articles in a special issue of The New York Times Magazine meant to “reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.” Also making use of the community room will be the Road Home Reentry Program, founded by All-In-Grocers developer Rodney Anderson, which offers a 16-step life skills curriculum to equip individuals returning to the community from Iowa prisons with the tools needed to start new chapters in their lives. During the first year of operations at All-In-Grocers, 10 program participants are expected to transition into jobs at the store after completing the nonprofit’s curriculum.