Answering God’s call isn’t always easy. Mike Mitchell knows that firsthand.
About seven years ago, he had just started a new job as executive director of the S. Dale High Center at Elizabethtown College after a long stint as president and owner of Amelia’s Grocery Outlet.
“I had experience in the food business. My wife volunteered in a thrift store,” Mitchell says. “One day, I just got a strong leading from God to put those two together.”
The idea was to create a “social business on steroids,” a combination discount grocery store and thrift store with a three-pronged mission: to provide fresh food to underserved areas, to provide job opportunities for those re-entering the workforce and to use the store’s profits to further serve the community.
But Mitchell was busy with his new job, and he put the idea on the back burner.
“I knew this was going to be really hard,” he says. “I’m not a young guy anymore. It’s one of the reasons I kind of procrastinated.”
Then, in 2017, Giant Food Stores announced it would close its supermarket on North Reservoir Street in the city’s East End, prompting protests over the loss of a vital source of food within walking distance for many residents of the neighborhood.
“That’s kind of when I realized that maybe I need to do something to fix that,” Mitchell says.
That “something” is Treasures Markets, a business developed in partnership with Water Street Mission, the Social Enterprise Institute at Elizabethtown College, and the High Foundation. The store offers groceries, including dairy, produce and meat, as wells as clothing, housewares and furniture at discount prices.
Treasures Markets opened in June 2020 at 515 N. Franklin St., behind McDonald’s near J.P. McCaskey High School. It will celebrate its one-year anniversary from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, June 26, with a summer food fest featuring discounts, music, prizes, giveaways and food trucks.
In a year of challenges, Mitchell says there is much to celebrate.
First and foremost, Treasures Markets is filling a need in a food desert and giving residents of the area easy access to fresh food and other goods at affordable prices. Dealing with major manufacturers such as Kellogg’s, Campbell’s, Turkey Hill and Tropicana, the store can offer groceries up to 50% off retail prices. On the general merchandise side, closeouts from the likes of Target, Amazon and Sears, as well as donated goods, carry savings of up to 60% to 70%, Mitchell says. The inventory is ever-changing, so there are always new treasures to find.
A basket of goods comparison with Giant revealed a savings of over 30% for Treasures Markets shoppers. A similar comparison with Target showed over 50% savings.
But Treasures Markets is more than a place to shop. It’s a place that changes lives. Jesse Arias and her two children were living at Water Street Mission for a year and a half when a life coach with the mission’s Step Up program suggested she consider a job at the newly opened market. Up until that point, the single mom had struggled to find a job that gave her both flexibility and the financial means to support her family.
Treasures Markets created a job that accommodates Arias’ needs. As retail sales coordinator, she handles the general merchandise store side of the operation.
“Me being able to get the job allowed us to be more independent when it came to being able to leave the mission,” Arias says. “I’ve been on my own with my kids for five or six months now. It’s given me the opportunity to become independent again with the faith that I’m going to be OK.”
Working at Treasures Markets also allows Arias to help others like herself. “It’s a really good feeling at the end of the day to know I’m actually giving back and can help,” she says.
Whether she’s sharing her testimony or encouraging people in the community to shop at the store, her message is simple: “You’re helping yourself because our prices are incredibly low, but with every purchase you’re giving back to the same community that wants to help you out.”
Making an even greater impact on the community is a hope for the future, Mitchell says. Proceeds from Treasures Markets flow through the non-profit Treasures of Hope foundation to Water Street Mission and other worthy causes in the community.
As a start-up business during the COVID-19 pandemic, profits have been minimal at this point, Mitchell notes. Still, Treasures has donated food to local non-profits, given away free food to customers and offered special discounts.
The June 26 event is not only a one-year anniversary celebration, but also a chance to reintroduce the community to Treasures Markets.
“We want to celebrate what God is doing in people’s lives,” Mitchell says. “This is not just a grocery store. This is a business that God put here for more than to deliver discount savings.”
While its mission is to help the underserved, Treasures Markets is open to everyone, Mitchell says, estimating that 170,000 people live within a three-mile radius of the store. Over the past year, shoppers have given Treasures a higher Google rating than Target, Ollie’s or Walmart, Mitchell says.
The store is conveniently located two minutes off Route 30 in a safe, well-lit area with plenty of parking. However, since it is a standalone business and not part of a strip mall with a lot of drive-by traffic, the challenge is getting people to see that it’s worth the trip, he says.
The more people that shop and save, the more good Treasures Markets can do.
“God can do anything He wants. We just have to stay faithful. Sometimes the journey is more important than the destination,” Mitchell says. “We’ve got a lot of excitement ahead.”
Treasures Markets is located at 515 N. Franklin St., Lancaster. Hours are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The store is closed Sunday. For more information, visit treasuresmarkets.com or find us on Facebook at facebook.com/treasuresmarkets/.