Corner Stores

In many neighborhoods that lack supermarkets and grocery stores, families depend on corner stores and other small-scale stores to purchase food. The choices at these stores are often limited to packaged food and very little, if any, fresh produce. Improving the product mix at smaller stores and addressing other issues of viability — such as pricing, food quality and freshness, and customer service — are strategies that build upon existing community resources to enhance access to healthy food in underserved communities

Corner stores are also frequent destinations for children, many of whom stop daily on the way to and from school for snacks. Corner stores are therefore a great place to make healthy food choices available and easy. As a result, groups across the country are partnering with communities and corner store owners to increase the availability of healthy foods in corner stores. Some example programs include:

 

Because of the tremendous interest in improving healthy food options in corner stores across the country, advocates created a national resource for this work. The Healthy Corner Stores Network (HCSN) supports efforts to increase the availability and sales of healthy, affordable foods through small-scale stores in underserved communities. 

The HCSN facilitates webinars that are organized around peer-to-peer learning, with brief presentations by network members and/or invited speakers. The HCSN website also highlights brief profiles of participant projects and provides links to resources. A listserv facilitates additional information sharing between network participants. Participants can become members of the HCSN for free, although membership is not required to participate in calls or use network resources.

 

Key Challenges

Improving corner and convenience stores is less complex and costly than constructing a new store, and builds on existing community resources. However, smaller scale corner store projects have some challenges:
 

  • Competing with the price, quality, and selection advantages of grocery stores. Small-scale stores do not have the buying power that can translate into lower prices for consumers. 
  • Sourcing, pricing, and stocking produce requires knowledge and proper refrigeration units or adequate shelf space.

 

Key Strategies

The PolicyLink report Healthy Food, Healthy Communities: Promising Strategies to Improve Access to Fresh, Healthy Food and Transform Communities includes a guide to help store owners overcome the challenges with improving healthy food offerings at corner stores. Challenges include the following:

 

  • Reduce the risk, and the costs, for small stores. Community groups can encourage small stores to increase shelf space for fresh produce by documenting unmet demand, subsidizing the additional costs, and providing managers with tips to help them buy, sell, and display produce. To reduce costs, store owners can collaborate with other stores to jointly buy foods from local farmers.
  • Pick the right retailer. Improvement efforts are most successful when merchants are genuinely receptive to selling healthier products and willing to invest into improving long-term viability. Efforts focused on corner stores near schools can help ensure that healthier food and beverage choices are available for children during their school day.
  • Increase and capitalize on customer spending power. Advocates can promote resident participation in nutrition assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps, and the Women with Infants and Children program (WIC) to bolster the purchasing power of local residents, while ensuring that retailers accept WIC and SNAP benefit cards. Community organizations can promote stores that offer healthier food. 
  • Connect stores with government resources. Financial and technical assistance for small businesses can be targeted to small-scale retailers in low-income communities who are willing to improve their selection of healthy foods. Local economic development and health departments may also be able to support these efforts. For more information, see Funding.
  • Conduct background research to learn more about state and local efforts to increase the availability of healthy foods in corner stores. Resources include:
  • Partner with corner store owners to increase the availability of healthy foods in corner stores:

In addition to city and statewide financing initiatives that support grocery projects across the country, there are other policies supporting corner store development in underserved communities. See the Policy Efforts page for more information.

Tools and Resources

Key Resources for Funding Corner Stores

Because fresh food access is a key issue affecting communities across the country, state and local funding programs have been created specifically for fresh food retail projects, including corner stores. For a list of fresh food retail funding programs across the country, see Public-Private Partnership.

 

For additional information on funding for your corner store project, see the Funding section.

 

Other Key Resources

 

Success Stories

  • Louisville's Shawnee Market, Louisville, Kentucky: Shawnee Market used $20,000 of a Communities Putting Prevention to Work grant (an initiative of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that, funds 50 communities to reduce chronic disease related to obesity and tobacco) to purchase refrigeration units, display racks, new signs, and construction improvements. The improvements are coordinated by the Healthy in a Hurry initiative of the Healthy Hometown Movement and its partner, the YMCA.
  • Philadelphia’s Christian Food Market, Philadelphia, PA: The Christian Food Market, located in south Philadelphia, is a community hub where many residents go to buy their groceries. In April 2011, the store upgraded to offer healthier foods including adding a single door refrigerator and a produce rack and baskets, which allowed the store to greatly increase its inventory of fresh produce and low-fat dairy products. After introducing the products, the store became certified to participate in the nutrition assistance program, Women with Infants and Children (WIC).