Baldwin’s town-owned food market sparks national political discussion

Question at center of the debate is whether town’s move is good small-town governance or socialism

BALDWIN, Fla. – Baldwin’s new, town-owned food market is becoming a national political battle. The town has struggled to keep a supermarket in the small area nestled between Jacksonville and Baker County, so the town decided to purchase the older IGA supermarket and open its own Baldwin Market.

That bold move has spawned a national discussion on whether Baldwin’s move is good small-town governance or socialism.

There’s not a lot of shopping on Main Street in Baldwin, as the Family Dollar has closed down and the IGA closed in the last few years, too. That’s why the Town Council decided on something pretty unusual. It bought the IGA store and opened its own government-owned Baldwin Market with milk, tomatoes and Butterball turkeys.

“It’d be real rough (if there wasn’t a store),” Baldwin resident William Fudge said. “We (would) have to go all the way to Macclenny, go to Jacksonville.”

But something just happened that Baldwin didn’t expect. The town is at the center of a national debate, starting with a Washington Post article with the headline: “When a deep red town’s only grocery closed, city hall opened its own store. Just don’t call it ‘socialism.’"

The debate over whether this is socialism lit up the politically charged internet from the Washington Post to the Boston Globe.

“Crazy,” said Rebecca Graham, assistant manager at Baldwin Market. “Weird for us.”

Locals told News4Jax said they think the town-owned food market is saving them from a trip to Macclenny for hamburgers or Jacksonville’s Westside for apples. They’re not thinking they should be the focus of U.S. food policy.

“I think the town itself, the mayor and everything, sat down and decided what the town needed -- not be taboo of any kind,” Baldwin resident Paul Crews said.

Baldwin Mayor Sean Lynch told the Washington Post he doesn’t see this as socialism, saying the town is providing residents, who already pay enough in taxes, a service.

But the national interest is not over. Store workers told News4Jax that the Fox network recently had cameras there. They said there’s even interest for a future Netflix documentary on the Baldwin Market.

Baldwin Market
Baldwin Market (WJXT)

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