If you’re strolling through S.F. on a warm spring day and fancy a doobie, chances are you can stop in at your local corner store and find a blunt wrap pretty easily. In the Tenderloin neighborhood, which has approximately 70 corner stores within a dozen square blocks, you’re probably not even going to have to cross the street to get what you need. But thanks to a local community-based effort, most corner stores in the neighborhood now offer an additional perk for its shoppers: fresh groceries.
The Tenderloin has long been considered a “food swamp” by healthy food advocates. It’s not a food desert per se — there are lots of places to eat, but few are healthy. There’s no major grocery store, and in the past residents have relied on their downstairs pizza joint, sub shop or corner store for sustenance, unless they travel to a supermarket outside of the neighborhood’s boundaries. But in 2013 Healthy Retail San Francisco and the Tenderloin Healthy Corner Store Coalition began helping corner store owners convert part of their retail space into a mini grocery, offering fresh fruit and vegetables, sandwich supplies, and nutrition-heavy snacks.
And? It’s worked. A new statewide report on healthy corner stores states that 60 percent of stores in the Tenderloin now offer fruits and vegetables — the highest rate in the city. With this inclusion has come an increased profit for the participating neighborhood stores, who have seen a 25 percent increase in total sales after installing or increasing their fresh produce options.
“The early success of Healthy Retail SF in the Tenderloin is very encouraging. By bringing together local merchants with the community and the city, we have shown that neighborhoods can take charge of their health and wellbeing starting with their local stores,” said Dr. Tomás Aragón, Health Officer for the City and County of San Francisco. “However, there is still much work to do, especially for our low-income communities and communities of color.”
For example, in the Ocean View, Merced Heights, Ingleside, Excelsior and Bayview neighborhoods only 40 percent of corner stores sell fresh produce, but 85 percent sell flavored cigarillos or blunt wraps.
Across the state, data shows that five times as many stores in low-income neighborhoods sell cheap alcohol products — like fortified wine, malt liquor, or mini bottles — than in than wealthy neighborhoods.
“Your zip code should not determine your health,” said Angel Rodriguez, a young adult leader at Bay Area Community Resource who helped collect local data for the report. “Our neighborhood stores are part of our communities. We want to work with them as neighbors so everybody who lives, plays and shops here can be healthy.”
The 2016 Healthy Stores for a Healthy Community report can be found in full here. And with the stark success rate of stores in the Tenderloin improving financially while offering health benefits to the local communities, we can expect more grapes — and maybe less grape-flavored blunt wraps — across the city in the future.