Posted on 09 November 2011 by Jenna Barnes
Humboldt Park residents could see more fresh produce in corner stores as a new program grows to combat the effects of the neighborhood’s food desert.
Launched by the West Humboldt Park Development Council, the Healthy Corner Stores initiative is designed to make access to fresh foods easier in an area with few grocers and an abundance of fast food. The project provides local convenience stores with a fresh food kiosk, a cooler and signs to market the newly available foods, according to Kameil Milton, the Healthy Stores project manager.
Corner stores will keep the coolers stocked with fat-free milk, juices and fresh produce, such as cabbage, grapes and carrots. If stores provide these healthy options, then customers may decide not to buy junk food, Milton said.
“What’s available to people really impacts what they’re going to buy,” said Tom Otto, economic development planner for the development council.
Instead of bringing in new grocery stores, the project is targeting 11 existing convenience stores located on Chicago Avenue between Kedzie and Pulaski avenues. The local focus allows customers to buy produce from establishments they are familiar with, and also preserves existing businesses within the local economy, Milton said.
The first kiosk went up three weeks ago at Chicago Central Park Food Mart, and a second store recently agreed to implement the program.
“We want to sell fruit,” said Rami Rafti, the store’s manager. “It’s good for the people.”
Rafti’s customers said they like the convenience the new program offers since many residents do not have cars and cannot afford to pay for transportation to far-away supermarkets.
“If they have fresh stuff here in this store, then I won’t have to go a long way to get it at that store,” said area resident Monroe Hutchinn, 64.
While convenience stores are known to charge more than supermarkets for healthier fruits and vegetables, prices at Chicago Central Park Food Mart’s Healthy Corner are kept low.
Individual eggplants and bags of carrots cost $1 at the kiosk. At the nearest Dominick’s, located two miles away, eggplants cost about $1.50 each and a bag of carrots costs 99 cents.
The convenience of nearby produce and the relatively low cost keep customers coming back to the store, Rafti said. But other local stores have not yet embraced the program.
“There’s resistance all around,” Otto said.
Many store owners don’t believe their loyal customers, who regularly buy chips, beer and sodas, would be interested in purchasing fresh produce, Otto said.
But the development council is determined to show that the program can prove financially beneficial for stores, while simultaneously creating a healthier community, Milton said.
“Humboldt Park is in the process of making lots of change,” she said, “lots and lots of change.”