Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Corner Store

Yesterday, the Idora Neighborhood Association, Residents of Ward 5 Precinct I, Councilman Paul Drennen and MVOC showed just how powerful citizens can be when they organize. Yesterday at the polls, citizens spoke through the ballot and they voted to discontinue sales of alcohol at Party Pantry on Glenwood Avenue in Youngstown.

It is time for corner stores in urban areas to improve their image and begin to serve as an asset to their neighborhoods rather than a detriment. There is little doubt that neighborhoods need corner stores within walking distance. No one really wants the corner store to disappear, but rather most would like the stores to stay, and provide healthy foods and products. If the stores were to clean up their image and provide healthy products, this would not only improve their neighborhoods, it would ultimately make owning and working in the stores safer, increase sales and make the stores more profitable.

Recently, changes in the WIC federal nutrition program have been made to allow the benefits to be used to purchase a much wider range of healthy foods, including fresh produce. This should help to create a strong incentive for stores in low-income areas to carry healthier items. There are numerous resources for communities who wish to improve access to healthy foods through work with small stores and corner stores.

If the owners of Youngstown's corner stores were to collaborate with residents to improve their neighborhoods, wonderful changes could transpire. For example, Youngstown as we all know is a shrinking city, more and more green space is being created, and it should be cultivated. By producing healthy food and creating a local sustainable food system, the "corner store" could participate as purveyors of local food. The idea of food production in the city is relatively new and will take some time to implement, however, in the meantime, if the "corner stores" were to clean up,and introduce new products I have little doubt that they could improve profits. Cleveland has such a project and you can read about it here.

The Idora Neighborhood Association and Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative began their nine month old corner store campaign in August 2008 with a public meeting attended by over 120 residents of the neighborhood. The purpose of the meeting was to cleanup Glenwood Avenue and the five corner convenience stores located along a one mile stretch of the commercial strip. The neighborhood attempted to work with the stores, but only one store came forward, as a result a Dry Precinct Initiative was launched.

In November 2008, the neighborhood voted Ward 5 Precinct I dry with 60 plus percent of the voters backing the dry precinct. However, Party Pantry Inc. was able to place a special option election for the Party Pantry site on the May ballot through 5R voting regulations. The residents vowed to continue their efforts and yesterday their work paid off. The months of extensive outreach, canvassing and public meetings resulted in approx. 80 percent of voters saying no to the sale of alcohol at Party Pantry, Inc.

James London of the Idora Neighborhood Association said, “The neighborhood was tired of this type of activity, which has gone on for twenty years. We are no longer willing to tolerate irresponsible businesses or behavior. The neighborhood has clearly spoken and a new day is dawning in the Idora Neighborhood.” London added “This is not about closing stores. It is about creating good neighbors and a healthy neighborhood.” Residents and members of the Idora Neighborhood Association say this is another successful step in the ongoing campaign. The campaign will continue to cleanup Glenwood Avenue and will target other corner stores in the days and months to come.

As residents of the city, let's begin to approach the owners of the corner stores and let them know they would have our business and support if they were to clean up their stores and offer something other than alcohol. I've been in several of the stores around town and I feel lucky when I'm able to purchase a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk, much less anything nutritious.

You can learn more about cleaning up the local corner store by contacting the
the Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative. The MVOC is a broad-based community organizing initiative that was established in March of 2008. The primary focus of the MVOC is to unite groups throughout the community (churches, neighborhood groups, schools, etc.) to work together to increase the quality of life in urban neighborhoods in the Cities of Youngstown and Warren, Ohio. For more information please visit


iwasthere said...

it is refreshing to know there is a full service gentlemen's store in ytown's downtown. the wondering diners patronizes the ytown's downtown on a weekly basis by shopping for clothing, food and gift items. i will go to this gentlemen's store for a shoe shine tomorrow, which my brown shoes are in need of good polish and shine.

iwasthere said...

the soutthside block watches banned together as partners to testify against the owners of Alli's and Two Gun Sam's Pizza shops' renewnal liquor licenses due to these concern citizens' actions these two stores liquor licenses were revoked.

Diggitt said...

Fascinating -- but how is it not spot zoning? And/or, how is it legal to target just one store -- or can one voting precinct be defined as a zone?

It will be interesting to see if the store can survive in that neighborhood without selling alcohol. What a transforming event if it can!

Anonymous said...

That is funny. You think that if that place stops selling alcohol and starts selling organic lettuce that people from outside of that neighborhood will start going in there? If he can't sell alcohol, he can't stay open. That's it. This is classicism and mild gentrification. What do we want for downtown Youngstown? More businesses, aka, bars. All kinds of bars. All kinds of bars to attract the monied white professionals out in the suburbs. This is simply a class issue. If we wanted to clean up that area, we should actually clean up that area. Take care of the litter and trash, do something about the abandoned houses, maybe even put in a bike lane or something. Instead we go after the business owner, a long standing business owner, and blame alcohol! Please. The perceived problem with that area is its black residents. And if I were black and treated the way most blacks are treated in around the Midlothian "DMZ," I would surely take offense. This is cultural nitpicking. And I hate alcohol, but this guy is going to go broke without those sales. And I can't wait to see how many "Healthy" products sell in those stores. You can barely get healthy foods in the burbs, let alone at an affordable price. These are band aids on a wound that needs surgery.

Mary said...

I'm new to this blog and it's a pleasure to meet everyone. My take on the "corner store" issue can't help but bring me back to the African American films of the 80's/90's. Why, in impoverished neighborhoods, do we see an opportunity to buy alcohol on every corner? It's rather counter-productive. I know I sound like Spike Lee here but, damn if I always thought he had some good points. And as far as "classicism", well, I believe the fellow that owned the Party Pantry pretty well had his patrons nailed for what they were.

Mike Prelee said...

I remember when the Party Pantry had a great big sign painted like an Orange Crush bottle back in the 70's. Dad used to stop in to play the numbers and grab a pack of Winston Lights. I don't know combining green space for farming with store ownership will produce enough income for the store to survive but as long as they sell junk food, pop, lottery tickets and smokes I think they'll be just fine. If not, it's an opportunity for someone else to try.