by Kenneth Hill, SEFA Food Guardians
For many years, Bayview Hunters Point in San Francisco has been regarded as the Black Mecca for Black businesses and enterprise. Back in the 1970s you could find an array of Black-owned businesses – from dry cleaners, to tax preparation services and even small full-service grocery stores selling an array of grocery items, as well as fresh produce. But over the years, as the demographics have changed, so has the vast majority of business ownership. Today in Bayview there are still Black-owned businesses around, but not nearly as many as there were in the 1970s.
Since the large demographic shift in Bayview, it’s been really difficult for Black business owners to stay afloat and evolve with the demands of the community. But with help from Southeast Food Access Working Group and Bayview HEAL Zone initiative, Black business owners are meeting those demands.
The number one goal of business owners is to make money. Before venturing into a business, most business owners do a considerable amount of research, such as assessments to determine whether a business is needed in the community and what the financial gain might be. This is in part true for Black corner store owners Kathy Ford, succeeding her parents as owner of Ford’s Grocery, and Bob, the owner of Surf Side, better known as Bob’s in the community. Before opening their stores in Bayview 30 plus years ago, they both saw a need for places in the community for people to purchase food.
“The people up in West Point and Harbor didn’t have a store close by to get to and the buses didn’t come often, so I knew a corner store was needed and would do fine,” said Bob. With the need being immensely evident, Black business owners Kathy Ford and Bob opened their corner store businesses and sell a vast array of foods that were in demand in the community.
“When my mother and father first opened Ford’s, we sold meat, fish, breakfast food and produce,” said Kathy Ford. Ford’s Grocery is a landmark at the corner of Oakdale and Lane, just a block east of Third Street.
This reality has changed for Kathy Ford’s and Bob’s businesses over the years. During the last two decades, they’ve seen peoples’ buying patterns change – from customers coming to pick up a few steaks, a bag of beans, and a couple bunches of collard greens, to a bag of chips and a soda.
When asked what she thought contributed to the change in peoples shopping patterns, Ms. Ford said, “I don’t know, I really don’t know, but what I do know is that we need to change. We need to get back to eating collard greens and healthy food in general.” The change Kathy longed for would come in due time.
From a social justice perspective, not having access to fresh, affordable produce and healthy food is unfair. Until recently, finding produce and healthy food items in Ford’s Grocery was like trying to find water in the Arizona desert. The shelves were full of processed, high fat, salty products and there was not one single piece of produce. But Ms. Ford was ready for some change at her store.
On Jan. 16 and 17 of this year, Ford’s Grocery became the second corner store owner to participate in the Healthy Retail Conversion Program and is now offering fresh affordable produce as well as healthy food products. Lee’s Market in Bayview was the first corner store to bring healthier food and fresh produce into the store in July 2012 and continues to work with the Food Guardians on store improvement.
The Southeast Food Access Food Guardians, through the Healthy Eating Active Living Zone initiative funded by Kaiser Permanente, work with small businesses to increase access to fresh produce and healthy food for the Bayview community in an attempt to level the playing field for all Bayview residents. The Food Guardians hope to work with Bob’s or other small stores in the near future, if funding allows.
Getting produce into Ford’s Grocery was done through a comprehensive three-legged approach called Retail for Community Health and Sustainability, which involves Community Promotion and Awareness, Retail Technical Assistance, and Policy-Supported Incentives and Regulations.
I Promotion and Awareness: The SEFA Food Guardians, who are Bayview Hunters Point residents, are the core of the promotion and awareness leg. The Food Guardians promote the changes of the retail project before, during and after the store redesign is set. This is done by conducting various surveys and assessments, promoting the changes at community events, writing news articles and developing district-wide healthy marketing strategies to let the community know about the healthy changes.
II Technical Assistance: Stores that participate in the healthy store redesign project are allotted a host of technical assistance support. The technical assistance is provided by Sutti and Associates, a retail redesign consultant firm with over 35 years of experience in the industry. Sutti provides expertise in developing schematics, produce maintenance, and product merchandising – not only to the participating store owners, but also to the Food Guardians, so that they can continue to provide ongoing technical assistance to the stores in the long term.
III Policy Supported Incentives and Regulation: It is hoped that these pilot healthy retail efforts result in the establishment of a citywide program that would bundle together the promotion and awareness piece with the technical assistance piece and provide incentives such as tax breaks for small businesses making the effort to carry produce and healthy food items while decreasing the sale of junk food, alcohol and tobacco.
This effort gives Black business owners and other small business owners in the Bayview a fighting chance to change their business models to accurately reflect the community’s new ways of thinking in terms of food. The Healthy Retail Conversion program gives business owners an optimistic outlook in terms of their business’ prosperity in a new market. According to Scott Schaffer, business consultant with Sutti Associates, “Produce can generate just as much money as alcohol and tobacco, if not more. It’s all about the way you run your business.”
Kenneth Hill of SEFA Food Guardians can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (415) 822-7500, ext. 26.