Q&A: Fare & Square, an oasis in a U.S. food desert
The Fare & Square grocery store located in Chester, Pennsylvania, looks just like any other supermarket in the United States. Its main doors open to an ample fresh fruit and vegetable section, followed by rows of household staples and refrigerated foods.
The store stands apart, however, because not long ago, these products were not available in Chester, once one of 35 zones in the United States deemed at a “food desert.”
Before Fare & Square opened it’s doors this past year, Chester had gone without a grocery store since 2001. With the support of Philabundance, Fare & Square’s nonprofit model has reestablished access to fresh foods in the city and created around 50 new jobs.
Philabundance president Bill Clark spoke with www.freshfruitportal.com about the store’s unique model and the impact it has had on the community.
What is a non-profit grocery store? How does this model differ from standard retail shops?
Fare & Square is the first nonprofit grocery store of its kind in the US. Fare & Square operates just like a regular for-profit grocery store but because we are a registered 501c3 (nonprofit status) we do not need to make a profit to stay in business or have to pay back our investors. If we do make a profit, it will just go back into the store by lowering prices or providing various programs that would benefit the community.
Can you explain the concept of a “food desert”? What does this mean for the Delaware Valley?
A food desert as defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy and affordable food. Instead of supermarkets and grocery stores, these communities may have no food access or are served only by fast food restaurants and convenience stores that offer few healthy, affordable food options. The lack of access contributes to a poor diet and can lead to higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.
Before Fare & Square, the Delaware Valley had 35 USDA determined food deserts. When Fare & Square opened, that number dropped to 34. By opening Fare & Square in the city of Chester, Pennsylvania, we are able to provide easy access to nutritious food staples at affordable prices. We hope to open similar models in other communities who need this in the future.
What types of products does Fare and Square offer? How do you expect these options to influence the diets or shopping habits of the local community?
Fare & Square offers nutritious affordable food products at everyday low prices. Fare & Square has six departments including produce, deli, seafood, dairy, frozen and brand name and private label dry foods in a 16,000 sq. ft. store. Before Fare & Square opened, you could not purchase a head of lettuce in the city of Chester. Residents had to travel to another town just to get produce and other perishable food items.
By providing these foods in the city of Chester and by offering healthy nutritious foods at everyday low prices, we are giving residents the opportunity to purchase these items right in their own community.
What does the membership plan entail and how does it benefit shoppers?
Shoppers are encouraged to sign up for a free Carrot Club membership. Carrot Club members are eligible to earn rewards, including store credit given through in-store promotions, program incentives and special values. Carrot Club members who earn 200% of the federal poverty line or less have an opportunity to receive Carrot Cash benefits, a 7% credit towards future purchases. We have more than 7,600 households registered for membership.
What sort of support has Fare and Square received to maintain its operations?
Philabundance has received overwhelming support from individuals, corporations, foundations and government officials.
What challenges have you encountered in operating the store?
We are always learning and figuring out which products the shoppers are purchasing. We have been constantly changing the inventory and adjusting pricing to keep our shoppers happy and bring others into the store.
Are there other stores that run a similar model to Fare and Square? Or is there a possibility of seeing this model pop up elsewhere?
There are models that are similar but do not compare when looking at size, scale and product offering. There are stores called co-ops where members must pay a fee in order to shop. They are nonprofits. There are also similar grocery store models but they are on a much smaller scale and often do not have the same product offering, like seafood, deli and fresh meat. Some models also require shoppers to earn a certain income to qualify.
At Fare & Square, you can find the same products that you would find at a for-profit grocery store and everyone is welcome to shop at Fare & Square.
What response have you received so far to the store? Have you noted a community impact?
We have received a positive response from the community as well as the whole Delaware Valley and beyond. We have received calls from other cities asking about Fare & Square to try to bring something similar to their cities.
In some ways, Fare & Square acts as a community safe haven. One shopper told us a story about how she takes her children to Fare & Square after school and after their homework because it is a safe place to go.