Corner Store Sells Fresh Produce

O’FALLON – On a sunny weekend in late March, Carrie’s Corner Market at 4500 Athlone Avenue introduced a new line of products that produced robust sales. According to the store’s owner, a shocking 40% of sales that weekend were from these new products.

What are the products? Fresh fruits and vegetables!

The story is newsworthy because of the small store’s location. Carries Corner Market, in the 21st Ward, is located in what researchers define as a “food desert” — a typical low-income environment where there’s limited access to to healthy foods.

A joint effort by the University of Missouri Extension, City of St. Louis, and the St. Louis Development Corporation aims to tackle the barriers that prohibit access to food retailers and nutritious, healthy foods in local food deserts. The collaboration has led to the launch of a pilot program with three area corner stores — two in the 21st Ward and one in the 25th Ward.  Suppliers on Produce Row have been identified and a fresh produce delivery system has been implemented.

Kara Lubischer, community development specialist with UMSL Extension, said the project was inspired by a 2009 USDA study that recommended working with small corner stores.

Through UMSL’s involvement with the grocery co-opt in the Old North neighborhood, Lubischer said she and her colleagues realized that other outreach efforts were necessary.

“The Old North St. Louis neighborhood was able to open a community-run grocery store but not every neighborhood in the city has the capacity to open grocery stores, nor should they,” Lubischer explained. “Another way to address the issue is to work with stores already in our neighborhoods to help people purchase the foods necessary to live healthier lifestyles.”

Much more work must be done to support the initiative and adequately address the food dessert problem, Lubischer stresses. Aldermanic interest must be encouraged, grassroots marketing campaigns must be instituted, and volunteers are needed to conduct surveys so researchers can identify what types of produce interest customers most.

For Gary Willis, owner of Carries Corner Market, the pilot program is already a success.

“My customers love it. I’m starting to attract a different crowd. Some of the older people who didn’t stop in for whatever reasons are now starting to call and come by.”

Willis and his wife, Melba – who’ve operated Carries for 19 years — have already identified the fresh food products that attract theirs customers. “Bananas, apples, oranges, grapes, a variety of greens, onions, potatoes, and yams are selling pretty well,” Willis said.

Lubischer hopes the program matures into a well-rounded, multi-faceted approach that permanently addresses the lack of healthy food in disadvantaged neighborhoods.

“We want it to be more than just fresh produce. Frozen and canned produce are good as well. We want people to have access to non-fat dairy options, whole grain products – all the different components of a healthy diet.”

The Healthy Corner Store Project will host a meeting on May 9th at The Sanctuary (on the corner of Red Bud and Rosalie Avenues) at 6:00PM.  Attendees can join teams where they plan events, organize cooking classes and taste-tests at participating stores, work with youth to create “eat healthy” marketing messages, and brainstorm on ways to help corner stores sell healthy products.

For more information about the May 9th Healthy Corner Store event contact 21st Ward NSO Michael Powers at 314-657-1375 or powersm@stlouiscity.com.

By SYLVESTER BROWN, JR.
Senior Staff Reporter

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