You may not believe that the Minneapolis City Council passed an ordinance requiring small Mom & Pop grocery stores to sell fruits and vegetables to their ethnically diverse patrons while at the same time denying those same customers access to menthol cigarettes and as a result, minority-owned business are being stressed to the point of closure.
Since 2014, as part of its “staple foods” ordinance, Minneapolis has required licensed grocery stores, corner shops and convenience stores to stock a variety of healthy foods from 10 categories. The goal was to help consumers who don’t have easy access to grocery stores.
City officials acknowledge that they need to loosen the rules. In 2018, 38 percent of the 250 stores, including supermarkets and small convenience shops, were fully compliant with the ordinance, according to data from the city’s health department. But another study conducted by the University of Minnesota last year showed that among small stores, only 10 percent were in compliance. The city is now proposing to reduce required quantities while combining food categories and expanding other varieties acceptable to different ethnic groups.
The changes are in response to store owners’ complaints that they were being forced to stock items that their customers don’t eat, said Kristen Klingler, a public health specialist with the Minneapolis Health Department.
Mahmoud Salem, owner of Quick Stop at 3601 Penn Av. N., and Azem said shoppers who used to come for menthol cigarettes used to pick up an apple or banana along the way. That’s not happening now.
“We don’t have the same clientele we used to have a couple of months ago when we used to sell menthol cigarettes,” Salem said. “Those people migrated to different places.”
The Fremont Market, at 3556 Fremont Av. N., was portrayed as a success story as recently as Oct. 15, when Klingler played a promotional video at a City Council committee meeting. The video showed customers buying fresh lettuce, cilantro and other produce at grocery stores in the city.
The camera zoomed in on a cooler full of fruits and vegetables. It also showed baskets of pineapples, apples, oranges and bananas near the checkout counter. “When we first heard about the ordinance, I was like, ‘How am I gonna do it?’ ” Azem says in the video, which was filmed last year. “But when we tried it, I liked it. It attracted more customers to my store.”
These days, Azem has a different view. The cooler at his store is now sparsely stocked with produce.
Azem said his friends who are in the same business joke about placing artificial fruits in the stores, just to comply with the staple foods ordinance. He said he has laid off two employees.
“I’m trying to close down,” he said. “This [menthol] law killed the business.”