Since opening last month, America’s first nonprofit grocery store is bringing fresh and affordable fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy to Chester, Pa., a community that has struggled to find healthy food options since the city’s last supermarket closed in 2001.
Chester, home to 35,000 people, has been designated a food desert, a low-income area lacking easy access to healthy food, by the US government. For the residents of Chester the Fare & Square grocery store — seven years in the making — is a welcome relief: “It’s a beautiful supermarket,” said employee Geraldine Carter.
The store is the brainchild of Bill Clark, the executive director of Philabundance, a nonprofit hunger relief organization. Chester has a 36 percent poverty rate and unemployment is 13 percent. Clark said at one time Chester had five grocery stores, but they all closed when the city fell on hard times after manufacturing virtually disappeared.
About half of the city’s residents don’t own a car making it difficult and costly to travel to a supermarket. As Clark put it: “To bring a gallon of milk is a hardship if you have to use two buses to get home.”
So far 60 percent of Chester’s families have signed up for free membership to the Fare & Square, which allows shoppers with annual incomes equal to or less than twice the federal poverty level to receive a seven percent store credit every time they shop. About 60 percent of shoppers are using benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to pay for their food.
The 16,000-square-foot store receives funding from the government, foundations and corporations, as well as individuals. The goal is to one day be financially self-sustaining, but it’s still early days, so a time frame has yet to be set.
Now the question is: Can the Fare & Square be a model for other food deserts in America, home to 13.5 million Americans looking for fresh food?
In this report, producer Karla Murthy visits the Fare & Square to find out what the community thinks of their new, unconventional supermarket.