How a Beloved Corner Store in South Los Angeles Addressed Food Deserts (and Much More).

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Follow any community development conversation and you’ll likely encounter the term “food deserts”: the term used to describe neighborhoods in which the residents cannot easily access affordable and nutritious food. 

And understandably so: The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has reported that 13.5 million people live in food deserts. That’s 13.5 million people in neighborhoods across the United States who—by design, not choice—struggle to lead healthy lives. 

So how do cities usually respond to this obvious struggle that millions of Americans experience? Some cities will ban dollar stores in neighborhoods qualified as food deserts; others will give huge tax incentives to supermarket chains willing to create a new location in a certain neighborhood. 

Do these responses bring affordable and nutritious food to neighborhoods marked as food deserts? For $5.7 million in tax incentives, perhaps. But, in usual Strong Towns fashion, I can’t help but ask myself: what small bets could cities make to address food deserts in their neighborhoods before giving away tax dollars? 

Ask this episode’s guest, Kelli Jackson, and you’ll hear a response you likely didn’t expect: invest in your local, neighborhood corner stores. 

Since 1998, Kelli’s family has operated Hank’s Mini Market in the Hyde Park neighborhood in South Los Angeles. Visit Hyde Park and, on the surface, you’ll notice the usual culprits behind a food desert, such as fast food chains and gas stations. 

But in 2018, Kelli—who took over the always-beloved corner store for her father in 2014—partnered with the L.A. Food Policy Council to participate in its Healthy Neighborhood Market Network: a program that empowers owner of food stores in low-income and minority neighborhoods to provide healthy food in their communities. 

The result: a corner store—run by the same family that makes Hank’s Mini Market so beloved in the community—adapted to the needs of the neighborhood without the city forgoing $5.7 million in future tax revenue. 

Sure, you won’t find exotic produce or every cut of meat at Hank’s Mini Market. But use that $5.7 million to repeat this process in corner stores in every neighborhood, and I bet you’ll do far more to address food deserts than that single supermarket.

In this episode, Kelli shares the story of Hank’s Mini Market and how—with a little love for the neighborhood you serve and allies on the local level—corner stores across the country can combat food deserts. We also discuss how Kelli responded to the needs of the neighborhood, why corner stores represent more than a place to buy the day’s needs, and how corner store store owners can empower customers to lead healthier lives.