Lettuce, Not Liquor

San Francisco, California

When the owner of a convenience store in San Francisco’s low-income Tenderloin neighborhood approached the planning commission to have his liquor license approved, he hoped the commissioners would agree that the small selection of groceries he planned to offer would help satisfy the local demand for healthy foods.

But community residents felt differently, and ChangeLab Solutions had done the research to help back their case.

ChangeLab Solutions' study of food access in the neighborhood demonstrated that the neighborhood was already oversaturated with liquor stores. Armed with the data, dozens of residents joined forces with Chris Schulman, senior policy analyst with the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, to argue against granting the liquor license.

Documenting the impact

At a hearing before the planning commission, one resident after another stood up and described the negative impact that readily available alcohol had on neighborhood safety.

When the planning commission wanted evidence that a small store could survive without selling alcohol, Schulman turned to ChangeLab Solutions' study to demonstrate that more than half of the corner stores in the neighborhood did not sell alcohol and that their businesses were doing well.

“Whether we were looking for focus group data or a map of food availability in the neighborhood, the research had what we needed,” Schulman says. “We turned to it at every step of the process.”

A different business model

As far as community residents were concerned, the story had a happy ending: the planning commissioners voted 6 to 1 to deny the store owner the liquor license.

Meanwhile, Schulman’s agency helped the store owner develop a business plan for offering produce and other healthy choices.

The business is building momentum without selling alcohol, Schulman reports. Thanks to ChangeLab Solutions' work, he says, "we were able to make a case for a different model.”

Photo: Lydia Daniller

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