Healthy Communities Will Bring Good Jobs by Connie Ford

by Connie Ford on October 11, 2012

Last week, Supervisor Eric Mar introduced a new ordinance that will give local merchants the chance to bring healthy products to their communities. Perhaps in part because of Mar’s past work on fast food and tobacco, the media to date has focused on the push to make corner stores healthier. Missing from this coverage is how beneficial this ordinance will be to both existing and prospective merchants.

This is what Mar’s policy does: in areas where there is a lack of acceess to healthy food, existing markets can get free technical assistance to change their businesses model to sell more fresh and healthy food. The same assistance can be provided to people who want to open a shop for the first time.

What does “underserved areas” mean? Details need to be worked out, but a map from the Department of Public Health (link) is a starting point. And it’s not only places like the Tenderloin and the Bayview—even neighborhoods like the Outer Richmond and the Sunset suffer from a lack of good food options.

Even better, this ordinance doesn’t create a new bureaucracy—it streamlines the ongoing work taking place in two different City Departments, sharing best practices, and expanding across the city.

A one-stop-shop would provide these benefits to merchants in a simple, efficient manner. By keeping all of the important resources in one place, current or future merchants won’t have a problem finding what they need to remake their stores.

This legislation also builds on a City report which showed the negative impacts that opening of a large formula retail store selling fresh food would have on local businesses in San Francisco. A key finding is that if a large formula retail food store opened in San Francisco, an estimated 321 existing food retail businesses would close leading to a 28% reduction in the number of food retail businesses citywide within 2 years.

“Everyone who lives and works in San Francisco has to be concerned about what building more large chain stores could mean to small businesses in our neighborhoods,” said Sal Qaqundah, owner of the Arguello Market in San Francisco’s Richmond District. “We cannot allow more chains to come in unchecked causing widespread harm to small businesses and our local economy.”

Supervisor Mar understands the balance between mitigating the impacts of chain stores while not banning them outright. “One approach to preserving our small business sector is to make it more difficult for formula retail business to move into and expand in San Francisco,’ said Supervisor Mar. “However, the strategy I am pursuing with this legislation is to help our small businesses to compete and become better able to meet our communities’ needs.”

There is also a provision to explore how healthy food retailers can enhance existing job training programs and provide new job training and employment opportunities for San Francisco residents, including low income individuals and youth, and create incentives for Healthy Food Retailers to hire San Francisco residents.

All-in-all, the legislation will give a huge boost to efforts to fill empty storefronts in San Francisco. As Supervisor Mar put it: “Encouraging our small, neighborhood serving stores to offer healthier products is a win-win for our businesses and our residents.”

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