A regular at the store, Reguindin picked out five tomatoes, five chili peppers, three onions and some garlic.
“Any fresh spinach?,” he asked the market owner.
“Just frozen,” answered Fadhl Radman, 50, explaining that fresh spinach perishes too quickly.
Over the past two years, and with the help of the Tenderloin Healthy Corner Store Coalition, Radman has been converting his store from carrying primarily junk food to one that offers healthier options and more produce. For a neighborhood of mostly low-income residents that’s known for crime and homelessness, the transformation is a welcome development.
“The whole idea is to try to modify people’s eating habits,” Radman said. “Build up their interest in fruits and vegetables.”
Radman’s Produce Market is an oasis in a neighborhood oversaturated with stores that mostly offer alcohol, tobacco products and junk food. Tucked into a storefront at 201-D Turk St. between Jones and Leavenworth streets, it is surrounded by seven other corner stores and two large below-market-rate housing developments.
“The one thing that people don’t realize is that families live in the neighborhood and of course there are seniors who all need access to fresh, healthy produce,” said Supervisor Jane Kim, who represents the area. “This is actually the issue that we have, that the Tenderloin is a food desert.”
While the Tenderloin often gets labeled as a place where food is scarce, Susana Hennessey Lavery of the Department of Public Health likened it more to a food swamp.
“It’s where there is a lot of food, but it’s high in salts, fats and sugar, with little nutritional value,” she said. “So there’s plenty of products saturated in the neighborhood, but not healthy ones.”
The transition for Radman’s Produce Market started when the coalition brought in taller shelves to move packaged items to the middle of the store, creating room near the windows to display fresh fruits and bulk bins for oatmeal and grains, among other things.
Radman’s is not the only store selling produce in the Tenderloin, but is the first to undergo such a transformation. In the Bayview-Hunters Point area, Lee’s Food Mart, Ford’s Grocery, and Kennedy’s Market and Deli changed their offerings with the help of the Food Guardians and Southeast Food Access groups.
More corner stores in the Tenderloin and Bayview are expected to receive help under the Healthy Food Retail Incentives Program, a yearlong pilot introduced by Supervisor Eric Mar and passed in September. A dozen store owners attended a workshop in the Tenderloin in February and half of them will be assessed. Three to five will be selected for the program, which has a $60,000 budget.
“Early on, we had questions around whether there was real interest and commitment to be part of this program,” said Healthy Retail SF project manager Jorge Rivas. “We had nearly 20 folks show interest, and there’s no way for us to meet those needs.”
Mar’s office said the supervisor hopes to continue the program through San Francisco’s budget or by leveraging private funding.
“We’re also hoping if we’re successful in passing the sugary beverage tax in November, there’s going to be a dedicated amount of funding that can come from that,” said Nick Pagaoulatos, a legislative aide for Mar.
Radman’s Produce Market is holding a grand reopening during this weekend’s Sunday Streets event, and the owner plans to serve samples of healthy food and hand out recipes.
The market opened in 1998 with about 20 different types of the most common produce — apples, oranges, grapes, potatoes and tomatoes — and has offered up to 50 different kinds since then. Some of the newer items include celery, broccoli, red lettuce, Italian parsley and even kale, which Radman said didn’t sell too well.
“It doesn’t make sense to buy it and just watch it die there,” he said. However, he added that he’s “going to try it again, see if it goes well.”