Retail Transformation in Pursuit of Health Equity: Al’s Story
At Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), we know that food has the power to build health or tear it down. Lack of access to good food predisposes people to chronic health conditions such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
In recent years this has worsened as Black, Hispanic and Indigenous Americans and individuals with underlying conditions like obesity and diabetes were also the ones hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s why we’re fighting every day for food equity: because we can’t have health equity without first ensuring food equity.
We’re proud to be working with Al Jones in the Mississippi Delta, who’s improving health equity in his local community.
Al and his wife Mary first opened J’s Grocery in 1997 to fill a need for groceries and household essentials in their neighborhood of Clarksdale, Mississippi. In 2005, after eight successful years of running J’s Grocery, they opened a second store.
According to Al, before J’s Grocery opened, the primary place people in the Delta had to buy groceries was at mom-and-pop stores, mostly run by Chinese, Lebanese, and Italian immigrants. However, the second generations of these grocers had no interest in running the family grocery store and left the area to go to college or to fulfill a professional career, leaving a significant gap in the community when the stores closed.
Pictured left to right: Al Jones, owner of J’s Grocery; Mary, wife of Al Jones; Doris Haynes Miller, Project Community Liaison, MS Delta Food Systems Collaborative, PHA; and Tyler Yarbrough, Project Manager, Mississippi Delta, PHA. Photo Credit: Jordan Alexander Sales.
“I saw that need and filled it,” said Al. In addition to providing good food to the community, Al uses his stores as a community hub. “We’re not just a grocery store, we also have a laundromat, barbershop, and event spaces.” PHA held a community event, bringing more than 100 people from the community to enjoy fresh and local produce with a DJ, yoga instruction, and cooking demonstrations.
This year, Al is working hand-in-hand with our team to renovate and reformat the layout of J’s Grocery in an effort to prioritize produce, grab-and-go items, and healthier products. The store renovations began just last week.
Al wants the store to be a model of success for others in under-resourced communities like Clarksdale. He hopes that other small grocers in the area and beyond can learn from him and work collaboratively to create good food access in their communities.
The transformation of his store is proof that the decisions we make can make a positive impact for the health of the people around us.