Prince Market managers Yash Patel (left) and Ryan Vetter (right) craft a beverage for a customer at the coffee bar, featuring a selection of Starbucks products.

Prince Market, Athens’ Newest Downtown Grocery, Fills More Than Shelves

Prince Market, Athens’ newest downtown grocery store, hopes to fill a gap in an area previously classified as a food desert by the USDA. A family-owned business, it provides diverse local products and personalized service — a vital resource for residents and students living in the heart of the city.

 Why it’s Newsworthy: Prince Market, Athens’ newest grocery store, brings fresh produce and local products to the downtown area, expanding food access to an area previously classified as a food desert by USDA. 

The grocery store is located on Prince Avenue, on the northwestern corner of downtown Athens. This area, until 2020, was a food desert, impacting over 3,000 people. According to the USDA, a food desert is defined as a census tract in which “A significant number or share of residents is more than 1 mile (urban) from the nearest food store.”

Filling a Gap in Downtown Athens

Ryan Vetter, one of two general managers at the store, has spent most of his life living in the area.

“I grew up in the Athens-Oconee area since I was 5 years old. I’ve been here a long time. Went to high school in Oconee and then went to UGA,” he said.

His decision to be a part of Prince Market wasn’t just for business; it was a response to a perceived need in the local community.

“It seemed like this area was kind of lacking the downtown area-designated grocery store. There’s some other really good options, but they’re more niche,” Vetter said.

Prince Market, as Ryan describes it, is the answer to a void, a grocery store that caters to the diverse needs of the community.

“Organic options, vegan options, regular options, so it’s got something for everyone,” he said.

A paper sign featuring a charming red serif font advertises a vibrant selection of lettuces, micro-greens, and radish greens from Athens-based Diamond Hill Farm.
A paper sign showcases a selection of lettuces, micro-greens, and radish greens from Athens-based Diamond Hill Farm at Prince Market. (Photo/Ethan Henderson)

The store is owned by the Patel family, which manages several local businesses in the Athens area, including the Red & Black Liquor Store. Yash Patel, the other general manager, has known Ryan since the second grade. He echoed the sentiment of community-centric service.

“It was made to be a grocery store for the community,” said Patel. Prince Market serves as a lifeline for people living in downtown Athens without convenient grocery options, Yash emphasized.

“I think it means a lot. Especially if they don’t have cars, don’t have transportation, we’re something close they can walk to. It’s quick and easy. In and out,” he said.

Expanding Food Access

According to the USDA Economic Resource Service Food Access Research Atlas, around 47% of Athens residents live in food deserts. With Prince Market’s convenient location less than a half-mile away from downtown Athens and UGA’s north campus, it offers a solution to those previously living further away from a grocery store.

“It’s just a cool opportunity to be able to do that for the local residents and students,” said Vetter.

Graphic showing a map of the previously USDA-classified food desert Prince Market opened in.

Building Community Through Customer Service

Sara Cloonan, a barista at Prince Market, said when she was searching for jobs, she specifically looked for a place that would let her customer service skills shine.

“I really enjoy interacting with people,” Cloonan said. “[Prince Market] stands out from other Athens grocery stores because everyone really tries to engage with you. We really care about the community.”

Patel emphasized the importance of customer connections and beyond that delivering results necessary to grow trust and loyalty in his clientele.

“We’re always taking customer suggestions. Whenever we get a suggestion, we try to get it in within a week or two, just so people know that we actually care,” he said.

A decorative A-fold chalkboard sign outside Prince Market's patio entrance bids customers goodbye, featuring charming handcrafted designs.
A hand-decorated chalkboard sign bids Prince Market customers goodbye outside of their patio entrance (Photo/Ethan Henderson).

Prince Market opened its doors for the first time in October of last year. There is a grand opening celebration planned in the coming months. Grocery offerings include fresh produce, dairy, meat and staple items. Colorful signs on each shelf put each local product in the spotlight. Additionally, there is a coffee shop and deli inside, the latter of which serves fresh sandwiches, pizzas and soups.

“It’s awesome for students, residents, everyone to not have to drive 10-15 minutes away to be able to get the food that they need,” Vetter said.

Ethan Henderson is a fourth year student majoring in journalism and political science.


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