Northern Liberties: Girard Avenue Corner Stores Get Healthy

Rosa's Deli has been a staple on Girard Avenue for nearly 40 years.

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East of Sixth Street, Girard Avenue serves as the boundary between the eclectic neighborhood of Fishtown and the burgeoning community of Northern Liberties. Local businesses abound, Girard is a convenient go-to avenue for residents bordering both neighborhoods, particularly for its mix of restaurants and corner stores. In light of this, some local food vendors are responding to a citywide initiative to offer more healthful food options for on-the-go residents.

The Healthy Corner Stores initiative is a collaborative effort of The Food Trust and the Philadelphia Department of Health’s Get Healthy Philly initiative. To qualify to be a member of the Philadelphia Healthy Corner Store Network, stores must choose two healthy food categories to introduce or expand the inventory of their stores. The categories include protein, whole grains, low-fat dairy, fresh fruits and vegetables and frozen, dried or canned fruits and vegetables. Each store must introduce two new products within the two categories of its choice, regardless of how many options in any category the store currently sells.

Marcote spoke about her business's involvement in the Healthy Corner Stores initiative.
Marcote spoke about her business’s involvement in the Healthy Corner Stores initiative.

“We’ve participated for at least two years so far,” said Nicole Marcote, co-owner of Quince Fine Foods. “We’ve included dried fruit, yogurt and fruit cups.”

There is also a “Bonus!” category. Stores can introduce an additional category of healthy products, in addition to the two required categories, to receive an additional incentive for participating.

“People are demanding and seeking healthier options in the neighborhood,” Marcote said.

Communities without easily-accessible supermarkets often depend on corner stores for food purchases. While many corner stores in Northern Liberties accept ACCESS cards and SNAP food stamps to aid underserved low-income communities purchase groceries, limited space at local markets often leads to limited fresh food choices. Though the neighborhood recently received a massive Superfresh, many residents still rely on local businesses with limited food options for snacks or meals.

According to Food Fit Philly, it is more common to be overweight or obese than to be considered a healthy weight in Philadelphia. Approximately 600,000 Philadelphians are considered a healthy weight, whereas 900,000 people fall into the overweight or obese categories, 150,000 of which are children. In the last 10 years diseases related to obesity have killed more than 20,000 Philadelphians, with low-income residents most afflicted. In North Philadelphia — the area with the most weight-related health issues — nearly 70% of children are overweight or obese.

A study published in Pediatrics found that the average Philadelphia student purchases over 350 calories on each visit to a corner store, with over one quarter of them shopping at corner stores twice a day, five days a week. This adds up to almost a pound of additional calories each week, and is a habit the initiative seeks to change.

“Our high school customers are especially [into] buying the fruits and the salads and so forth,” said Frances Rosa of Rosa’s Deli.

While Northern Liberties is not as prone to the ill-effects of poverty as it once was due to gentrification in the 1990s and early 2000s, poverty in the 19123 zip code, which encompasses the neighborhoods of East Poplar and Northern Liberties, is 27.58% according to Pew data. This is slightly higher than the city average of 25%, which is the nation’s 6th highest rate of poverty. According to a study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, people living in the most poverty-dense areas are most prone to obesity, often due to the lack of access to healthy food. The initiative seeks to improve healthy selections at corner stores citywide, assuring that healthier corner stores in neighborhoods with the least poverty will still improve access to healthy food in periphery low-income areas.

Stores in the Philadelphia Healthy Corner Store Network can be identified by a decal in their window which denotes healthy-eating options. Many stores also help customers make
 healthy choices with colorful signs that provide
 easy-to-use nutrition information.

“We care about the people in the neighborhood, we care about healthy eating, and we feel like if we can encourage especially young 

Rosa's Deli has added a number of healthy options into its mix of corner store classics.
Rosa’s Deli has added a number of healthy options into its mix of corner store classics.

people to eat healthy and everything that would be an incentive,” Rosa said.

The Food Trust was founded in Philadelphia in 1992 but is now widely recognized as a national nonprofit working in dozens of states. The Food Trust piloted the Healthy Corner Store Initiative in 2004 to motivate the purchase of healthier items through classroom education and marketing in corner stores. The initiative has expanded since to include assistance in increasing store capacity to market and sell healthy options, training store owners to make healthy changes profitable, offering in-store community nutrition education lessons and linking corner store owners to fresh food suppliers.

“The Food Trust’s mission is mainly to bring fresh, healthy local food to everybody in every corner of the city,” Food Trust Market Director Lisa Kelly said.

Since partnering with Get Healthy Philly, the Healthy Corner Stores initiative has expanded to over 600 corner stores in Philadelphia. Since its inception, the initiative has also expanded to Camden, New Jersey and Norristown, Pennsylvania.

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