Healthy Corner Store Program helping BR businesses offer healthier options

Healthy Corner Store Program helping BR businesses offer healthier options

Four corner stores in north Baton Rouge are in the process of receiving upgrades and improvements totaling $111,600 as a part of the Redevelopment Authority's Healthy Corner Store Program, an initiative to help corner stores offer healthy options to residents in areas where healthy foods as basic as fresh produce are hard to come by. Participating stores—selected through a competitive and extensive process with about a dozen applicants—include Beechwood Meat Market, Sewell's Community Grocery, Capitol Grocery and Kelly's Meat Market.

The program is utilizing resources from Mayor Kip Holden's Fresh Beginnings Program, including a one-time grant from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation, to provide each store with new refrigeration cases for produce, cash registers, dry goods bins, fruit baskets, plastic produce bags and cash donations for each store's first purchase of produce, as well as small business development training through Southern University for each owner, says Susannah Bing, director of finance and economic development for the RDA.

"But more important are the individual improvements," she says.

Beechwood, for instance, is weeks away from enjoying an upgraded electrical system, complete with a new $10,000 electrical panel, while Capitol Grocery is in the midst of adding new lighting and looking at getting an additional freezer, as well as new tables, chairs and basket carts, thanks to the Healthy Corner Store Program. Meanwhile, Kelly's just completed a custom-built countertop and may be able to buy a two-door upright freezer and a 40-gallon water heater with the initiative's help.

The program is also helping Sewell's install a commercial-grade kitchen by purchasing a six-burner range and a $9,000 hood and fire suppression system. Sewell's and Capitol Grocery—the only stores in the program with working kitchens—will soon partner with an LSU nutritionist who will help them develop healthy options for their menus to provide an alternative to fast food chains.

"We hope that they will ultimately create a weekly menu with a couple daily specials," Bing says, as well as "some recipe cards using produce and ingredients that the customers could buy in the store and then go home and cook a healthy option."

Bing says it has been a joy to work with the business owners and help them implement their visions.

"For some stores, it's financially out of reach to do some of these things," she says. "The store owners are truly grateful for the work that's occurring."

Each store will celebrate the arrival of fresh produce and completion of improvements with food tastings and demonstrations, beginning with Capitol Grocery on Aug. 12 and followed by Kelly's Meat Market on Aug. 14, Sewell's Community Grocery on Aug.19 and Beechwood Meat Market on Aug. 26.

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