Bringing Fresh Produce to Corner Stores in Declining Neighborhoods: Reflections from Detroit FRESH
The paper reports and reflects on an action research project to increase availability and sales of fresh produce in 26 neighborhood corner stores in Detroit, Michigan. Through analysis of neighborhood, store-related, and supply-chain characteristics, I identify factors in successful operations as well as challenges confronted by stores between 2009 and 2012, when many Detroit neighborhoods lost population due to tax foreclosure and abandonment. Neighborhood distress was reflected in challenges experienced by a majority of stores, including those that dropped out of the project prematurely (five out of seven), or participated only inconsistently (seven out of 10). Nine stores supplied fresh produce consistently. Operators with high levels of performance tended to be in zip codes experiencing population losses at a lower rate than the citywide average, be more committed to their store-neighborhood, have more experience with fresh produce sales, and be more willing to test alternatives. This paper reflects on the challenges of implementing corner store strategies in rapidly depopulating neighborhoods without ongoing subsidy. It also demonstrates the lessons in implementing them as action research projects including with students and community partners.
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