Onondaga County initiative puts healthy food in Syracuse corner stores

Apr 17, 2018

Hawley Markets on Syracuse’s northside gets a lot of business from a nearby elementary school, as well as neighborhood folks who don’t have access to cars so they have to do food shopping at cramped corner stores. It’s been six months since co-owner Rita Algattas started offering more healthy options than the candy bars and chips that crowd many corner store shelves.

"Having fresh fruit and vegetables, having it all the time visible on the counter," Algattas said. "Trying to have healthy choices."

Hawley Market Co-Owner Rita Algattas says since joining the Trinity Health and Onondaga County Health Department program to put more healthy food in corner stores like hers, things like bananas and avocados are next to the register, and she’s started offering veggie pizzas and salads out of the prepared food area.
Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

And she says while it’s hard to get people to change their dietary ways right away, over time she’s seen a difference.

"People just want cheese pizza and pepperoni," Algattas said. "Tell them you have vegetable pizza, they don’t want to touch it. So I started giving samples. So we start making spinach pizza and broccoli pizza at breakfast and we start giving them samples. and they like it so they come and ask for it now.”

Hawley is one of three markets in city neighborhoods getting help through an Onondaga County Health Department initiative that promotes healthy foods in some corner stores. The Trinity Health-funded program wants to make it easier to choose healthy food and beverages in stores that are often identified more with chips and soda rather than fresh fruit and vegetables.

Health Department spokeswoman Kathy Mogle says so far, corner stores have seen an increase in sales of healthy items. She's hopeful more sign on.

"We have a good success right here, so we can show others that the corner store can be successful when they increase healthy products," Mogle said. 

Health Department officials hope more small corner stores join the three that are already offering healthy choices. The only restriction is they must be near a school.