January 15, 2013; Source: WBEZ

There is a new corner store in Chicago! Why should you care? It’s one of a number of nonprofit grocery stores that are popping up around the country to respond to the problem of “food deserts.” According to WBEZ, there are an estimated 350,000 people who live in Chicago’s food deserts. In Chicago’s Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood, however, Louis’ Groceries has opened not just to sell food to the neighborhood, but also to get people to eat better. The nonprofit grocery still carries junk food, but they also carry fresh and healthy food and they do educational work with their patrons.

Terri Zhu, the store program director/manager says, “The idea is for people to make a choice. So we’re not going to take away your Frito-Lay from you.” Beyond just supplying more healthy offerings, Louis’ Groceries is experimenting with ways to build demand. For instance, WBEZ notes that it “offers healthy cooking demonstrations and nutrition classes” in the store.

Zhu says the problem is not just one of access, so Louis’ Groceries will have policy researchers analyze their sales data to discern why customers make certain choices and help inform strategies to change that over time. Maybe a little overkill for the corner store? But Louis’ Groceries is hoping to build a corner store model for underserved communities that can be replicated.

“These nonprofits targeting those underserved communities could be a game changer in terms of how those local neighborhood markets are able to reconstitute to some degree and have more market activity,” Mari Gallagher, a researcher associated with the project, tells WBEZ. –Ruth McCambridge