In American supermarket terms, it's really not much.
“Like a miniature Fresh Market, I guess,” Marc Spear said Friday.
Spear returned home to Missoula last week after spending three weeks in Les Cayes, Haiti, and overseeing the “soft opening” of the New Dawn Market there.
The store is in a reconditioned two-story building with a footprint the size of your average two-car garage in the United States.
Staffed and managed by locals, it’s already a hit, Spear said. And it hints of bigger things to come.
“The feedback from the community has been overwhelmingly positive. They are so excited that we’re there,” said the Missoula insurance agent and business consultant.
Spear and his wife Abby founded the faith-based nonprofit Love Has Come in Missoula in 2011. Its mission is orphan care outreach, locally and abroad, and its efforts in Haiti are one cog in a larger program. Profits from the market will go not only toward keeping it up and running, but to sustain 20 Homes of Hope in Les Cayes.
An Indiana organization, Loving Shepherd Ministries, has built the homes on the outskirts of the city of more than 100,000 to provide permanent, safe and loving havens for some of the thousands of orphans in this poverty-stricken and hurricane-ravaged corner of the Caribbean.
Each home is designed for a family with either 12 boys or 12 girls, and parents for a "forever family," said Spear.
Most of the kids are orphans, but they shed that label as soon as they walk in the door.
Love Has Come raised $150,000 in the past few years with last week's opening in mind. About half the money went toward the design and remodeling of the old shop in the city on the southern claw of Haiti, a building that somehow survived the devastation of Hurricane Matthew in October 2016.
Much of the rest went to stock the store with 13 common commodity groups from deli to dairy to health and beauty and dry goods, and to hire an all-Haitian staff of 15 to run the place.
“We also wanted to have three months of operating capital in the bank, to allow time for the startup and for the store to generate some revenue of its own,” Spear said. “Seventy-five thousand (dollars) was the bare minimum we thought we could have prior to launching, and that money we were able to raise over the winter season.”
Missoula’s handprint is all over the project.
Architect Todd Schaper and engineer Mark Bradford designed the building and several other buildings in Haiti. Mark Springer and Dayspring Restoration donated a 20-foot box truck to transport supplies.
Spear hired a store manager and assistant manager and business development coordinator on an earlier trip to Les Cayes, and left the hiring of the rest of the staff to them. They were ready to go in mid-March when he returned. All are adults from the area, and most would likely not have jobs if not for the store, he said.
Janet Kauffman, a QuickBooks consultant from Florence, joined Spear in Haiti for the last two weeks. She flew down with Randy Nixon, a systems administrator at Community Medical Center, who took vacation time to help set up the computer system and equipment.
“They were rock stars,” Spear said simply.
Nixon wasn’t planning on making the trip until the night he was at Spear’s home, trying to explain how the technology should be installed.
“Marc got this bewildered look on his face, and he asked me if I would be willing to go to Haiti," Nixon said. "I talked to my wife about it and took some time off.”
Kauffman worked in advance to set up accounting and payroll data files, only to learn when she reached Les Cayes that there was a problem.
“All the products we were set up to sell were not the products we received,” she said. “So we scrambled to get that straightened out.”
Getting by is a way of life in Haiti.
“I saw a motorcycle with a guy holding an entire queen mattress on his back,” Nixon said. “Our driver laughed and said ‘degaje,’ which you hear a lot. It means you make do with what you’ve got.”
Kauffman said she and the Haitian people were amazed at Nixon’s grasp of the Creole language, which he studied on YouTube for a couple of weeks prior to the trip.
“Every time I uttered a word in Creole they would melt into smiles and laugh and just have a wonderful time,” Nixon said. “That was the best part — seeing the faces of people when you talked to them in their native language.”
He’s checking in every day, but Spear is confident the New Dawn Market is in good hands. The manager is Lynn Sarah Admettre, a 25-year-old college graduate.
“A true gift,” Spear said. “She has the obvious gifts of leadership and administration and is doing an incredible job.”
The business development coordinator is 33-year-old Erve Joseph, who is keeping in close touch with Spear.
Kauffman said she can access the store’s books from her Montana home to do any troubleshooting that may occur.
In the first week she was called on just once.
“They had one question on closing a register,” Kauffman said. “It’s been easy sailing since.”
But larger problems loom. The city provides the primary power supply. It assured Spear of electricity 60 percent to 70 percent of the time. Instead, he said, it’s more like 20 percent to 30 percent.
“It’s extremely unpredictable and it’s dirty power,” Spear said. “The city will shut the power off and turn it on whenever they want.”
There’s an emergency battery power for backup, but he said it's "really hard on refrigerators and coolers and things when you’re turning them on and off four times a day.”
The flick of a switch changes the power source to a generator, but one that's not built to provide around-the-clock power. Love Has Come hopes to buy one that will. It’s a $15,000 investment, Spear said.
Just as daunting is finding a reliable supplier. Large as it is, Les Cayes is a five-hour drive on a dangerous road from the capital of Port-au-Prince, where most of the store’s products come from. Port-au-Prince, in turn, has to import most of its goods. Suppliers regularly run into a “chaotic system” of customs issues and shipping delays.
“There are only two grocery stores in Les Cayes, and neither of them provide consistent consumables to people,” Spear said. “We want to provide consistency, dependability, quality and refrigeration, and when you’re trying to stay true to those core values, the logistics become a major obstacle.”
A possible solution is to order nonperishables in bulk and warehouse them in Les Cayes, “so essentially we become our own supplier,” Spear said.
Another idea is to become experts in the import game and obtain goods directly from the Dominican Republic, Europe and the United States.
Still, the New Dawn Market offers the people of Les Cayes something that was sorely missing, said Spear.
“Our goal is to provide a service to the community that might be unique and different from what they’re already receiving, but at the same time also make it a profitable venture, because the profits we earn are going to go back into supporting these children,” he said.
The ultimate objective is to use the same model to build a much larger “Super Walmart” type store on land already purchased on the other side of town.
“We’re looking at about four to five years," Spear said. "Originally our idea was to close this store and move everything to the big store, but if this truly succeeds there’s no reason we would pull up this footprint. In fact, an idea is beginning to emerge to have a bunch of these small stores around town, and a main warehousing store as well. So the vision is growing."
He'll be back in Haiti on June 30 for the grand opening of New Dawn Market. It’ll be replete with a ceremonial ribbon cutting, a band, and the mayor.
“The whole city’s on board," Spear said.
It’s a labor of love and devotion for the Missoula volunteers, who’ve grown close to the Haitian people.
“Probably the most moving part of the trip for me was how difficult it was to say goodbye to our Haitian team,” Spear said. “Lynn Sarah and her staff are such special people, and although we’re there to build a store, we’re more interested in building and supporting people.
"To see them become all they can be is really inspiring, and it made for a very difficult and tearful goodbye.”