What is a corner store?
A corner store is typically defined as a small-scale store that sells a limited selection of foods and other products. Organizations that work with corner stores sometimes develop definitions that include additional criteria based on the store size, number of aisles, and/or number of cash registers. In practice, the term ‘corner store’ encompasses a diverse range of small stores—both independent and chain stores; in rural, urban, and suburban settings; and not always located on a corner. Other terms that are commonly used to refer to this type of store include: small-scale store, convenience store, neighborhood store, and bodega.
What is a healthy corner store?
There is an ‘official’ definition of a healthy corner store, and network participants use a range of criteria in their projects. Some organizations have developed specific standards that stores must meet in order to earn some type of healthy corner store designation. These standards typically include requirements to stock certain types of items (such as whole grain bread, low-fat milk, or fresh produce) and/or a minimum number of healthy items (such as six types of fresh produce). In Hartford, standards for “Healthy Food Retailers” are based on the percentage of shelf space dedicated to healthy foods, and increasing that percentage each year. In New York City, the health department has developed standards for three levels of “Star Bodegas,” which also creates incentives for stores to make ongoing improvements.
Some healthy corner store standards require stores to actively promote healthy foods, or to restrict or eliminate ads for tobacco and alcohol. Some require stores to follow relevant laws and codes, including health and environmental standards. In general, existing healthy corner store standards are fairly modest, reflecting the current reality that most corner stores sell primarily unhealthy items.
Does it make sense to try working with corner stores to bring in healthier foods? Would it be more effective to focus on bringing a larger grocery store to the community?
Most people want to be able to shop at a full-service grocery store, and attracting this type of store can be a powerful way to increase access to healthy foods. However, it also is a challenging, multi-year process that involves conducting market research, identifying an appropriate site, securing financing, dealing with permits and regulations, and other complex steps. In addition, assumptions about the challenges of operating in low-income communities and under-estimates of spending power in these areas create additional barriers to supermarket development. Local and state governments and community organizations can play important roles in helping retailers address these obstacles, recognize the opportunities, and operate successfully in underserved communities.
At the same time, there are a wide range of food retail formats that can help meet a community’s food needs, and it’s important to assess which are best for a given situation. Many communities have an existing base of corner stores where residents already shop, so working with these corner stores can be one effective strategy for using the available infrastructure to improve access to healthy foods. It’s generally easier to approach owners of small-scale stores, and to make significant changes in these stores with a modest investment of resources.
How can community members and youth support stores to make positive changes?
Residents are directly impacted by a lack of access to healthy foods in their communities, and have a vested interest in improving nearby corner stores. They can provide valuable input and assistance to corner store initiatives; indeed these efforts are much more likely to succeed if they have strong community support from the beginning.
Residents have a key role to play in demonstrating interest in healthy options. They can ask store owners to add healthy items or find out what products their neighbors would like to buy through community meetings or surveys. Community members also can help promote healthy items in stores by getting the word out to their neighbors, conducting taste tests or cooking demos, organizing health fairs or block parties.
Youth can be great allies in changing the corner store environment. Many are regular customers, stopping by stores on their way to and from school. Youth may be interested in getting involved through school, after-school, or recreation center programs. They can assess their local food environment and discuss their perspectives on food access. They can serve as liaisons to the community or organize their peers to ask store owners to sell healthier items. Young people can help make changes in stores or develop marketing ideas. They can even grow produce in a local garden and then sell or donate it to corner stores. These experiences can build their skills and empower them to continue making positive changes in their communities.
Information obtained and adapted from the HCSN website.