Can a Supermarket Change the Way a Neighborhood Feels About Itself?

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Consider your grocery store routine. Are you a daily shopper, picking up just what you need for dinner? Or are you a long-term planner, plotting for the month with detailed lists before making the pilgrimage to one of the big box stores? Maybe you’re a farmers market regular, or perhaps, like me, you dabble in it all. Regardless, how you shop, where you shop, and the efforts you make to shop the way you want is an extension of your identity. Choices let us shape our identity.

What happens when you finally get to make those choices after 30 years of not having one? CityLab, an offshoot of The Atlantic, shares the story of an ailing Pittsburgh neighborhood faced with answering that question. And so far, things are looking good.

In 2013, Shop ‘n Save opened in the Hill District of Pittsburgh and was the first in the neighborhood in 30 years. Tamara Dubowitz, a senior policy researcher at RAND corporation signed up immediately to track and measure the impact from the beginning. Rather than changing what they bought, findings of the two-year study show more positive, small changes were made.

In 2014, about a year after the Shop ‘n Save opened, residents consumed fewer calories overall, as well as less fat, alcohol, and added sugar.

Dubowitz believes something about the new store changed health behaviors, “but it didn’t have to do with shopping.” The change, it seems, may have something to do with how the community perceived their neighborhood. This suggests that our eating habits are tied to our overall environment, beyond where we shop.