Ashby Super Market, on the corner of Ashby and MLK. All photos: Christina Diaz

The corner store is a vital indicator of the economic, racial, and cultural makeup of any community. What people buy — whether it’s Coke or coconut water, deli meat or goat cheese, Hostess cakes or gluten-free baked goods, cheap hard liquor or expensive artisan brews — offers insight into the kinds of customers that frequent a business and their purchasing power.

For many people, the corner grocer remains their main — or only — source of sustenance. And, perhaps, equally importantly, a gathering place in a given neighborhood.

Some corner stores unapologetically flaunt booze and fast food, others offer ethnic staples or specialty foods, still others a combo of both. The products on the shelves — eclectic and quirky as they sometimes are (incense and pantyhose alongside a sea of cigarettes and processed salty or sugary food-like substances wrapped in fluorescent-colored packaging) provide clues to the character of the surrounding community.

The owners and managers who work behind the counters have their own tales to tell. Corner stores in cities around the country are traditionally run by immigrants and Berkeley is no exception. Of the five stores profiled below, all located on or close to Ashby Avenue, four owners have roots in Yemen, one is a first-generation American whose father was also a storekeeper.

Many corner store owners come in search of a better life for their families with hopes for a brighter future. English is often not their first language, some deal with crime and violence in or near their stores, and they’re not immune to hardship or hard work. Some become integral to their communities, others prefer to toil in relative anonymity.

In the first of an occasional series on Berkeley’s corner stores, we set out to get a taste of the flavor of five such grocers in South Berkeley.

Ashby Marketplace

Ramiz Hasan stands next to his extensive gluten-free section at Ashby Marketplace.

Ashby Marketplace on Ashby Street at College Avenue

Owner: Ramiz Hasan, 30, owned store for two years this October, has worked in corner stores in San Francisco with his father since the age of 12.

Hometown: Born and raised in the Bay Area.

Best-selling items: Flavored drinks, teas, organics, gluten-free goods, chocolate, deli sandwiches.

Clientele: “As eclectic as the community: Local residents, intellectuals from the university, including brilliant students, tourists, vivacious people, busybodies, a little bit of everything.”

What’s next: Expanded tea and gluten-free section and beer and wine in the Berkeley store. Plans to open an organic convenience store in San Francisco.

Claim to fame: Friends since high school with San Francisco sandwich guru Ike Shehadeh, who’s been known to pop by Ashby Marketplace. Last month, Shehadeh posted a tweet when he spotted the actress Jennifer Garner in line at Hasan’s store after she’d attended a breakfast for First Lady Michelle Obama at the Claremont Hotel.

Ashby Super Market

Store owner’s sons Abdul Hadi, 10, and Murad Hussein, 14, with manager Obaida Jaber of Ashby Super Market on MLK.

Ashby Super Market on Ashby at Martin Luther King Way

Owner: Anwar Hussein, 36, whose family hails from Yemen, has run this store for five years. He lives in Oakland and has four sons and a daughter, who is soon to be married.

Manager: Obaida Jaber, 34

Best-selling items: Deli sandwiches, cold cuts, and falafel, pita, and hummus.

Clientele: “All kinds: African-American, Anglo, Middle Eastern.”

Store pros: “The location: Close to BART, the flea market, library, and theatre.”

Claim to fame: Frequented by actors and other theater types from nearby Ashby Stage.

Secret to success: “We sell no alcohol so we have no problems. It’s a good community here.”

Sacramento Market

Owner Yaser Musid has expanded Sacramento Market’s produce section.

Sacramento Market on Sacramento Street at Ashby

Owner: Yaser Musid, 40, has owned this market for just over two years and the nearby Friendly Market (at California and Ward Streets) for 18 years.

Hometown: Yemen, has lived in the U.S. for 20 years.

Best-selling items: A mix of grocery, deli items, beer and wine. Extensive spice selection. No hard liquor.

Clientele: “About 90-95 percent African American.”

Recent improvements: “More produce.”

Challenges: “Everything is so expensive. There’s not too much profit in the business anymore.”

Family matters: “I don’t want this life for my children. It’s fine for me to keep going here but I want my children to have opportunities and a better life. When you run a corner store you have to keep your eye on everything. No corner store for my children.”

McGee’s Market

Eli Amhadi of McGee’s Market lives across the street from the store he owns.

McGee’s Market on McGee Avenue at Oregon

Owner: Eli Amhadi, 43, owned business for 15 years, lives across the street, has three children.

Hometown: Yemen

Best-selling items: A variety of grocery goods. Sells beer and wine, no hard liquor.

Clientele: “A mix of people, mostly from the neighborhood, most come in every day. It’s a good neighborhood. We never have problems. I know my customers and they know me.”

Pros: “I like to work for myself. I don’t like having a boss and having to do what someone else tells me to do.”

Cons: “It’s all I know how to do. It’s the only job I’ve ever done. I work seven days a week.”

J&B Fine Foods Market

Faiz Kaid manages J&B Fine Foods for his brother Ali Kassim.

J&B Fine Foods Market on Adeline Street at Harmon

Owner: Ali Kassim

Manager: Faiz Kaid, 40, Kassim’s brother, who has lived here 11 years. Kaid, who has seven children, lives above the store, as does Kassim, who has four children.

Hometown: Yemen. “When we first came here we were afraid for our children. We’d heard stories about kidnappings. But my children can walk to school here and I know people in the neighborhood look out for them.”

Best-selling items: Fried foods like chicken and chips, meat, sodas, candy. No longer sells alcohol.

Clientele: “A mix of black, white, Mexican, and Middle Eastern.”

Customer loyalty, part one: “One day a long time ago now, some guy came in and snatched a bunch of stuff and ran out of the store. My brother and I chased after him like a couple of crazies all the way down to San Pablo Avenue. We left the store wide open. When we came back, we found a regular customer who had closed the doors and wouldn’t let anyone in. She had seen what happened and was standing watch until we got back.”

Customer loyalty, part two: “Sometimes our customers are short a few cents and that’s okay. They always bring us the money next time. It’s not like they’re going anywhere.”

Cons: “Long days, long hours, not much money, sitting in the same place every day for years.”

Family matters: “My kids are getting an education, so they won’t have to do this job. They can be whatever they want to be. They will be something and have a good life.”

[Hat-tip: The Bold Italic for their post Life on the Corner, which profiled grocery store owners in San Francisco’s Western Addition and inspired this story.]

Sarah Henry is the voice behind Lettuce Eat Kale. You can follow her on Twitter and become a fan of Lettuce Eat Kale on Facebook.  Photographer Christina Diaz likes to shoot life as it happens.

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66 Comments

  1. Sarah Henry states:
    “In the first of an occasional series on Berkeley’s corner stores, we set
    out to get a taste of the flavor of five such grocers in South
    Berkeley.”

    College and Ashby are not part of South Berkeley – it is part of the Claremont neighborhood. Sarah you should fact-check yourself.

    Sarah Henry states:
    “On the corner: Stores that bring life to our neighborhoods”

    In our neighborhood we are trying to shut every one of these stores down as they are a nuisance, attract alcoholics, crime, and prostitution. Liquor stores selling junk food and attracting nefarious characters have no place next to family-oriented neighborhoods. Our Berkeley (not Claremont 92% white; $1M+ homes) experience is that:

    “On the corner: Stores that bring LOW LIFE to our neighborhoods”

    What is perplexing is that you pretend to be writing an article on how these stores bring life to the neighborhoods but seem to focus on why the owners are running these businesses after immigrating. The article is a failure as it does not address how these stores bring life to our neighborhoods. Perhaps if you visited these stores at midnight your article would have had a darker perspective.

  2. Sarah, thanks for selecting a different aspect of the local food system as your topic of the week.  To me, our Berkeley food obsessions can seem precious to the point of being totally irrelevant.  I’m glad for the chance to think about these other businesses which are hiding in plain sight.

  3. Well, obviously she doesn’t speak for the element of the neighborhood that is made up of the drunks, thugs, and criminals that reside in South Berkeley.

    A good number of people in South Berkeley make a living through criminal enterprise, and are very concerned with keeping things they way they are now.

  4. re DC saying “Anyone can speak for the neighborhood.”

    Well, no, not really.    Nobody can, of course.

  5. re DC saying “Anyone can speak for the neighborhood.”

    Well, no, not really.    Nobody can, of course.

  6. Ummm…so Claremont people don’t speak for the neighborhood, people who live there who you disagree with don’t speak for the neighborhood, clearly these business owners don’t speak for the neighborhood based on all the negative comments.  So basically – what – you do?  One guy who lives in a house at the exact geographical center of the neighborhood does? 

    Anyone can speak for the neighborhood.  Presumably dollars and cents speak the loudest however at the end of the day, and they keep these stores in business.

  7. re (to Ms. Menard): ” I understand that you’re a committed South Berkeley activist,”

    I just don’t want you to have the impression that, in general, she speaks for our neighborhood.

  8. guest,

    please provide me with any details of the last gunfight between local gangs in the Claremont area?

  9. TN description of black flight and the importance of good operating standards is accurate.

    One correction though
    “The prime assets of these stores are not the stock or the lease but the liquor license.”  should be “use permit”  which remains with the property unless the city revokes it. Which is why we have one liquor store every 500′ in beat 12.

    Local land use regulations determines where alcohol sales are permitted.
    Crime and social disorder are directly related to how a corner store is operated.

    I have plenty of sympathy for the operators, and will always ally those who are serious managers following good operating standards.

    I have little sympathy for the “Berkeley Betters”  who attempt to school me  about  local context.

    “Where you stand depends on where you sit”

    I live here in beat 12, and was a member of BAPAC, we drafted a set of operating standards based on best practices at the request of the city of Berkeley. We are still waiting for the city to complete the process.

  10. I haven’t made a study of corner stores in Berkeley but I’ve been around long enough to put together these incomplete observations.

    There were a fair number of corner liquor stores in Berkeley operated by African Americans until about 10, 15, 20 years ago. They often had the same problems that the newer immigrant operated stores have today. Their stock (or business “model”) was much the same.
    One of the things that these African American operated stores had in common was that the operators were all close to the age when they wanted to retire. Selling the stores to the highest bidder would have made sense to fund their retirement. Many of the operators didn’t have offspring or family who wanted to take over. Also I recall one of the owners complaining bitterly of “black on black crime” making life difficult. He didn’t want his children getting into the business. It is a hard way of making a living.Liquor stores are often sold by realtors. They are, or at least were, listed on the MLS. The prime assets of these stores are not the stock or the lease but the liquor license. The hard liquor license can be sold independently of the store itself.It looks as if the current immigrant operators of these stores had the most wherewithal to buy the stores as the older owners got out of the business.One of the interesting things about the troubles at corner liquor stores is that a few constantly seem to be the hub of trouble while another close by or even across the street don’t have any. Their stock might be the same and be operated by people who are equally new to America. I can only conclude that some individual business owners know how to manage their business and that others are either clueless or intentionally pretending to be so.

    I have some sympathy for the operators of these stores. It can be a difficult job. One owner, an immigrant from Asia, told me in exasperation of his learning that he wasn’t supposed to sell “Chore Boys” (a brass pot scrubbing pad) because they abet drug use. As he put it, “how would I have known?” It was another store owner who spoke his native language who told him about it. It is a bizarro world where cleaning products and plastic sandwhich bags are items that a store owner isn’t supposed to sell. This owner sold his store as soon as his children graduated from college.

  11. Good lord.  How would you know?  Maybe they grew up there.  Maybe they work down there.  Maybe they have family there.  That’s a pretty darn big assumption, and you frankly are just stereotyping.

  12. opinion yes,

    Facts and knowledge are not opinions.  Having been directly engaged in thee fight to ensure Ashby Super Market use permit did not include alcohol sales makes my original statement background information not opinion. The reference to the “gated community” is just one of many colorful expressions my family has adopted over  35 years of living the differences in city zoning and services.

    Read my original post which created the debate about the affect of corner store I provided background facts for  readers and the author to consider the subtext of store owners comments.

  13. “everyone in Berkeley is entitled to their own *perfectly valid* opinion regarding the city they live in

    Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but having a valid opinion requires experience, and most of the kind of people who live in the Claremont area or in the upper reaches of the hills or in Kensington have not spent enough time in the poorer parts of town (like South Berkeley) to know what it’s really like there.

  14. Is there really utility in taking swipes at people based on where they live? I don’t live in the Claremont area, but if I did I would be personally offended at your repeated “gated community” jabs. I understand that you’re a committed South Berkeley activist, and that’s great – but it doesn’t make your opinions the only valid ones. Whenever you disagree with someone, you tend to invoke the “I live here/you don’t” argument as justification of your point of view and dismissal of theirs. I don’t live in South Berkeley, which apparently makes my thoughts on anything regarding the area totally moot – never mind that I visit friends who work in the area, shop/dine there upon occasion, or simply that, fundamentally, everyone in Berkeley is entitled to their own *perfectly valid* opinion regarding the city they live in.

  15. I see comments spanning a range of three days, from over 15 different people, before you made this comment here.

    If you have something to say about the story, jump in and take part in the discussion. If not, then whining about it won’t change anything.

  16. I must say it’s getting tiresome to have the same 2 – 5 people commenting relentlessly on every story. Can you at least wait a couple of hours to give others a chance to pipe in? Between the negativity and the one-ups-manship, it doesn’t make me feel like even checking in here to see what’s up. Just sayin’ . . . 

  17. I agree with most of your comment, Val. If the stores want to sell junk food, they should be able to sell junk food. I eat healthy most of the time, but I enjoy the occasional enormous bag of over-processed Doritos as much as the next guy.

    The problems of loitering (which some stores encourage), drinking in public, public drunkenness, violence, etc, that revolve around certain corner stores (Liquor Stores) are more of what concerns me. Big displays full of 40oz bottles of Steel Reserve with fluorescent orange $1.99 OUT THE DOOR stickers on them don’t add anything positive to the community no matter how you look at it.

  18. Where did Heather say that the “young black males in a standard uniform of white t-shirt and saggy jeans” weren’t a community, Nick?

    If you’re going to make snarky comments at people who are concerned about the violence in their communities, you could at least have the good grace to target them correctly.

  19. I think the difference in the content of comments is largely due to the comment structure at Bold Italic (no discussion trees) and the age/outlook of the readers (Bold Italic readers skew younger and less politically active).

    I like both sites, but Bold Italic focuses almost entirely on community fluff pieces and tries to stay away from anything controversial.

  20. I agree with many of your other comments, but suggesting that this piece has a “propaganda agenda” is wrong-headed and rude.
    At its heart this article is a profile piece about the owners & operators of some of the friendlier corner stores in Berkeley.

    I think it’s fine and good for us to have a discussion about the way that an over-abundance of liquor outlets in South Berkeley (and certain other parts of town) is linked to the kinds of crime we read about in the Police Blotter every week, but it’s unfair to attack the author as part of that discussion.

  21. Discussing the negative impact of some corner liquor stores on the communities that they are in is central to the discussion about the value of these stores in the community and how many of them we should permit in any given area.

    Laura has done more to help the community in South Berkeley than you ever will, Alan. I’m sure it’s easy for you to ignore the problem areas in the community when you never visit them, but attacking community activists who are trying to change things for the better is counter-productive.

    If you aren’t willing to take part in trying to make some positive change in the South Berkeley community, at least stop attacking those who are.

  22. Let me add that I am not talking about the people who complain about public drunkenness and crime.  Those are legitimate complaints.

    Back in the days when the park near my house was filled with disorderly drunks, I did plenty of complaining about it.

  23.  Very true.  I can sum up the attitude of many Berkeley people in three words: kvetch, kvetch, kvetch.

  24. “Are you comfortable with the fact that this story only wrote about
    Yemeni storeowners, did not address the question of why African
    Americans don’t own many of the stores in their communities”

    You would have to interview sociologists to get a good answer to that question.  It is very obviously not an issue for a reporter who is interviewing people in the neighborhood.

    Here is a first step toward an explanation.  Africans were brought to the Caribbean as slaves, but because there was a shortage of food, their owners let them keep private plots of land to grow food that they could sell; as a result, they developed an entrepreneurial culture, and today’s Caribbean immigrants to the US are more likely than whites to start their own businesses.  By contrast, there was no shortage of food for US slaves, so they were not allowed to grow and sell food, and their descendents now are less likely than whites to start their own business.

    That is something I happen to know, but I don’t see how you expect Sarah Henry or the neighborhood people she interviewed to know it. 

    I have no idea why Yeminis tend to run these grocery stores; you would have to find a sociologist who specializes in Yemini immigrants to get an answer to that.

    I have heard explanations of why Cambodian immigrants owned most of the donut stores in the US a couple of decades ago.  I don’t know if they still do, but clearly we could not accuse someone of being a racist or of being selective if they wrote a story about donut stores back then and all of the owners happened to be Cambodian.

    At any rate, you are asking for a totally different article – one that involves researching sociology rather than interviewing owners of food stores.  It is valid to write either of those articles. You shouldn’t criticize someone for writing a different article rather than the article you want.

  25. As one who has had mostly white drunks in the park near my house, I can assure you that the complaints about mean drunk people are not asserting white superiority over people of cover.  They are saying that if people generally spend most of their time drunk, that is not good for the people themselves or for other people in the neighborhood. 

    Likewise, I had neighbors who were white and who always bought their dinner at McDonalds or KFC, and one of them became so unhealthy that she is now permanently disabled. Junk food is not healthy regardless of your race.

  26. Most often, the folks hanging out are young black males in a standard
    uniform of white t-shirt and saggy jeans, and I have no idea what that
    represents, exactly, but it’s not a bunch of old guys playing dominoes
    are hanging out.

    So, black men aren’t a community until they age and take up dominoes?

  27. That’s a pretty amazing non-sequitur, since the article isn’t about taxpayer/activist initiatives, nor was my comment.

    My comment was about the paternalist white-privilege rhetoric of many of the comments here, including yours. You simply give a liberal gloss to it, by citing “racial health disparities” when you’re really just complaining about mean drunk girls. (While also assuring everyone that you’re friends with the owners.) I have no idea how people can look at photos and make expansive comments about who gets to eat what—except, amazingly, that it’s the black people who somehow Snack Incorrectly and Drink Wrong.

  28. Exactly,

    and if you ever lived through a summer of gun fights (gated community members excluded) with the offenders using corner stores for cover you would have a very different perspective on the notion of “bringing LIFE” to the community.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H1ddPCcCm6k&NR=1

    These guys were targeted in the one of the recent shooting on Sacramento St, they ran into Bob’s Liquor for cover, the shooter followed them and the store manager, a good manager and father, was put at risk. It was very scary.

    The food security garden next store believes these guys are good folks.

  29. I understand the apparent negative opinion toward the current inventory offered at many corner markets. Their sales are dominantly beer, wine, cigarettes, snack food, lottery tickets, TP and milk. If all of the little markets disappeared wouldn’t they soon be replaced by ….7-11?  
    I personally don’t see anything wrong with these markets.  Corner markets are where people dash for a quick purchase.  Everyone can’t spend 55 minutes driving (or walking) to, parking, shopping and checking out at Berkeley Bowl or Andronico’s when they run out of diapers.
    I’ve been to mini markets that discourage loitering by playing classical music from a speaker near the doorway.  
    Telling businesses what they should or should not sell smacks of elitism and social engineering.  Not that either would ever occur in Berkeley.

  30. How about including the corner stores at Arlington Ave at Amherst just over the Berkeley border in Kensington?

  31. None of these locations are remotely in “communites that have few options.”  Ashby and College?  Ashby and MLK?  Even Ashby and Sacramento?  There are tons of groceries, cafes, etc. within short walks of these stores.  Only a blind person who has no car, no bike and cannot walk more than a block would consider these corners food desserts with no other options nearby.

  32. Heather W Said:
    “Most often, the folks hanging out are young black males in a standard uniform of white t-shirt and saggy jeans”
    Ah, the same type of people that Alice Waters tirelessly  introduces good eating to with her edible schoolyard baloney. It must be the fresh butter squash and pak choi that’s making them milling about the store waiting for it to arrive. I always did hear rutabag goes well with  Olde English 800.

  33. I don’t know what the point of the article is, exactly. I do not think the corner markets bring Life to the Neighborhood — they bring liquor and crappy food to a captive audience for the most part. J&B was the site of a recent shooting (witnessed by a friend of mine who lives in South Berk). McGee liquors owner was savagely beaten, as Laura M. noted, and any of us who drive by those markets can see who the markets are bringing together in South Berkeley. Most often, the folks hanging out are young black males in a standard uniform of white t-shirt and saggy jeans, and I have no idea what that represents, exactly, but it’s not a bunch of old guys playing dominoes are hanging out. 

    As to the issue of fresh, healthy produce, again as Laura pointed out, the movement toward bringing fresh foods to the ‘hood was led by African Americans; not white people. The fact is, the produce doesn’t sell and it ends up going bad. However, selling frozen veggies (and frozen meat products) isn’t extraordinary and has a long shelf life, so it’s not like they couldn’t take a poll of their regular customers and determine what kinds of frozen veggies would sell to there.  An example of a corner store that actually benefits the community is the one on Dwight Way and Sacramento — the owners do sell liquor, but they close early so there’s no night-time thuggery going on, they also offer the same processed food, but also have staples like milk, eggs and bacon. When the small market across the street was in business, and open late at night, the neighbors had a lot of problems. The neighbors have been happy to have the smaller place close and actively support the remaining business that is being run responsibly. 

    The people running these stores work long hours, and are just trying to make a living like anybody else. I think there is a place for the corner markets, but there have been a lot of problems as a result of what they sell, as in liquor, drug paraphernalia, and easy access to condoms for the Pros (at least in my neighborhood). I don’t see them as bringing communities together, on the contrary, they are rather like vultures — selling cheap, crappy food and liquor available at all hours to communities that have few options. 

  34. I don’t see any gates in my community… you’re welcome to come visit anytime – but watch out for those lines of ice cream buyers, they can be really vicious. 

    And just to be clear I didn’t call you a liar or anything close to that. I’m merely trying to point out that if everything you post is relentlessly negative, even on stories about ice cream stores, then it detracts from the value of your comments on more important issues. That’s just my opinion, and having a different opinion doesn’t mean I’m accusing you of lying.

  35. Alan,

    You live in Berkeley’s “gated’ community.

    I live in a tough neighborhood and have demonstrateed my optimism with deeds, making this area more positive by facing uncomfortable and challenging problems.

    That is the definition of a truly optimistic person.

    Clearly my speaking truth disturbed your beliefs system so greatly that you have resorted to lecturing me and insinuating I am a liar.

    Not cool!

  36. Laura,

    Last time I checked, the Claremont neighborhood (thanks for Googling me) was part of Berkeley too. I dont think I’m disqualified from having an opinion based on my address, am I?

    And I live close to one o the markets portrayed in the story (Ashby market). All I’m saying is that non-stop kvetching by you is tiresome. I don’t doubt that you have done a great deal to improve life in your neighborhood but your constant black cloud of negativity obscures the good things going on in Berkeley, whether at Berkeley High where my daughter goes to school (and is having a great experience), at corner stores (I shop at mine), or ice cream stores like Ici.

    “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” comes to mind when I read your posts. Try looking on the bright side of at least one story sometime, you might actually get a better response from folks.

  37. For many people, the corner grocer remains their main — or only — place to by a pack of smokes. For that I thnk them.

  38. I agree.  What a lot of negative comments and complaining!  I thought this was a nice slice of life, and a fun read.  I don’t get all the carping and bitterness.  OK, it wasn’t exactly what people wanted to read.  Big whoop.  If you don’t like it, just move on…

  39. So, Berkeleywoman (Like you, I write anonymously, but I post here all the time, my temperament and opinions are on view for all regular commentators and if you really want to know who I really am, it is easy to find out my legal name.  I use an online pseudonym  because I sometimes make comments that touch on confidential details of people I care about, not to hide my privacy but to maintain the privacy of others. So you regularly use Berkeleywoman?  I don’t recall seeing your name here before but I don’t read all posts at berkeleyside, just most of them)

    Are you comfortable with the fact that this story only wrote about Yemeni storeowners, did not address the question of why African Americans don’t own many of the stores in their communities, why it is easier for immigrants to gain a toehold in corner stores than Af Americans and then the corner store owners price gouge, that many of these stores become focuses for neighborhood crime rather than community builders?

    Does the fact that Sarah only chose  highly selective, only Yemini owned stores bother you at all? She listed a supposedly arbitrary sample but just happened to leave out major trouble spots in the same neighborhoods where these stores are?  Do you seriously believe the writer was objective in the choices she made on which stores to cover and which stores to ignore?

    I much admire the writer. I think her writing focus at Berkeleyside is food, which is related to why I feel so critical to this particular story. She’s not really talking about food. And I don’t mean to say she should not brand out. ..  but the story still seems to me, the more I reflect on it, selective, and in that selectivity it becomes a kind of propaganda. Do you understand propaganda? It is not overt. It is a subtly calculated, subtle manipulation to shape readers’ thinking?  It seems to me that Sarah wanted readers to take away lots of positives without acknowledging some of the very significant negatives associated with most of these neighborhoods where the stores she mentioned are located — the Elmwood store is a major exception . . and does it bother you at all that she lumped an Elmwood high end neighborhood store that sells, my goodness, a lot of gluten-free products with stores in the sketchier flatlands?  And you still think the writer’s selectivity had no possible propaganda agenda? Maybe not. And maybe the writer was not conscious of a propaganda agenda, but this story sure seems to me to be a poorly executed attempt, looking at it charitably, to write the kind of cute story she got the idea from, the link she put at the end.

    It was a cute story . . . . and this is a cute story.  I like news more than cute. And if I am going to read news, I like the whole story.

    The stores she chose were highly, highly selective.

  40. I’ve become good friends with the people at the Ashby Market @ MLK and Ashby; and I can attest that they try to get better food and offerings that the typical corner store. The owner tries to bring in different products, but if things don’t sell, they can’t afford to keep stocking them only to have them spoil.

    So in part, the market dictates what they carry. They used to carry bacon and pork; but people around here don’t tend to buy that enough to make it worth their cost and time to carry it.What I like about this store and the people running it is that they ARE trying to be different and improve the options and neighborhood. If there’s certain products they don’t have that I like, I mention it to them and they try to get it.Recently this store got tables and chairs so people can enjoy their sandwiches or drinks outside – that’s not typical corner market store stuff around here. They also make good sandwiches, carry fruit and vegetables and have a meat counter.They keep the store clean, and are constantly working on making it nicer. I find it refreshing for this part of town, and I’ve lived here for 12 years.They are trying to bring in more quality products. Of course with them being a small store, they can’t compete price wise to a place like Safeway or Berkeley Bowl.

    I appreciate what they’ve done to the place – a vast improvement over the old Grove Market that was in that spot – which sold liquor and much of the food was past expiration date – even things like PowerBars. Not having a car, and with the Bowl closing as early as it does, it’s nice to have this option of a place to run to for some chicken, vegetables, or last minute items needed for diner.

  41. I re-read the piece after reading some of the comments, to see what I missed. Sarah reported, did not editorialize. She showed a reality that is troubling in some respects, but it is REALITY. The profiles and pictures showed hard working business people; some clearly are proud of their businesses, some reveal the stress that they face and some expressed their hopes that their children would not have to work in the same business.I did not finish reading the piece thinking that this was promotional, it made me think about the struggle that so many people, particularly immigrants, face in our country.

    Yes, the piece could have focused on the crime/robbery problems that small businesses face — but then there would be protest that Berkeleyside is portraying all small markets as blights on the neighborhood and was not accepting the economic state of both these stores and our communities. Propaganda agenda? Really? Come on — Berkeleyside has earned kudos for consistent and unbiased reporting of the good, the bad and the ugly of our town. 

  42. Alan,

    you live in the Claremont neighborhood, please……..

    if you actually knew any of the operators or stores, you might know that some of these corner store owners  won’t take my money when I come for a quart of milk, there are grateful for all the work I did for neighborhood improvement.their kids are safer thanks to our work.

  43. Alan,

    Where do you live, I live here and know most of this store operators personally. I have also worked closely with the corner stores for close to decade on crime prevention. Check yourself dude, these people consider me a friend and one of the neighbors who have their back.

  44. Lance,

    I  thought Berkeleyside recognized and encouraged comments that provide greater depth and content. As a  chair the neighborhood association in the area of these markets for close to a decade and a member of the coalition BAPAC responsible for the alcohol regulations the city recently adopted, I assumed local knowledge would be valuable. Sarah did fine, but it is still a fluff/puff piece. No value judgment or offense intended. If you had been engaged in the community issues around the management and impacts of corner stores you would likely understand why the article is receiving the reaction it is.

  45. I know this post wasn’t directed at me, but I felt compelled to answer some of the questions anyway.

    “The stores she chose were highly, highly selective.” Were they? They all exist along a strip of Ashby – it seems to me that they were chosen for geographic convenience and not because the author is taking graft from the Yemeni Grocer’s Association.” does it bother you at all that she lumped an Elmwood high end neighborhood store that sells, my goodnes,, a lot of gluten-free products with stores in the sketchier flatlands?” Not really, I think it paints a stark portrait of the kind of class division that exists in Berkeley. It bothers me a little that you describe the neighborhood I live in as sketchy.”Does the fact that Sarah only chose  highly selective, only Yemini owned stores bother you at all?” Again, I don’t think the choices were selective except in the sense that she could only ‘select’ 4 stores to profile. I think the overrepresentation of Yemenis in corner store ownership is an interesting sociological phenomenon, but I don’t think that the Dark Council of Yemeni Grocers is plotting to take over Berkeleyside, as you seem to.”Are you comfortable with the fact that this story only wrote about Yemeni storeowners, did not address the question of why African Americans don’t own many of the stores in their communities, why it is easier for immigrants to gain a toehold in corner stores than Af Americans and then the corner store owners price gouge, that many of these stores become focusses for neighborhood crime rather than community builders?” I’m pretty comfortable with it, yeah. Unlike most of your other points, these are all real questions of interest, but it doesn’t surprise or bother me that a human interest piece largely made up of brief interviews doesn’t dig deep into the causes of racial and socioeconomic inequality.

  46. So, Berkeleywoman (Like you, I write anonymously, but I post here all the time, my temperament and opinions are on view for all regular commentators and if you really want to know who I really am, it is easy to find out my legal name.  I use an online pseudonym  because I sometimes make comments that touch on confidential details of people I care about, not to hide my privacy but to maintain the privacy of others. So you regularly use Berkeleywoman?  I don’t recall seeing your name here before but I don’t read all posts at bekreleyside, just most of them)

    Are you comfortable with the fact that this story only wrote about Yemeni storeowners, did not address the question of why African Americans don’t own many of the stores in their communities, why it is easier for immigrants to gain a toehold in corner stores than Af Americans and then the corner store owners price gouge, that many of these stores become focusses for neighborhood crime rather than community builders?

    Does the fact that Sarah only chose  highly selective, only Yemini owned stores bother you at all? She listed a supposedly arbitrary sample but just happened to leave out major trouble spots in the same neighborhoods where these stores are?  Do you seriously believe the writer was objective in the choices she made on which stores to cover and which stores to ignore?

    I much admire the writer. I think her writing focus at Berkeleyside is food, which is related to why I feel so critical to this particular story. She’s not really talking about food. And I don’t mean to say she should not brand out. ..  but the story still seems to me, the more I reflect on it, selective, and in that selectivity it becomes a kind of propaganda. Do you understand propaganda? It is not overt. It is a subtly calculated, subtle manipulation to shape readers’ thinking?  It seems to me that Sarah wanted readers to take away lots of positives without acknowledging some of the very significant negatives associated with most of these neighborhoos where the stores she mentioned are located — the Elmwood store is a major exception . . and does it bother you at all that she lumped an Elmwood high end neighborhood store that sells, my goodnes,, a lot of gluten-free products with stores in the sketchier flatlands?  And you still htink the writer’s selectivity had no possible propaganda agenda? Maybe not. And maybe the writer was not consiscious of a propaganda agenda, but this story sure seems to me to be a poorly exeu uted attempt, loking at it charitibly, to write the kind of cute story she got the idea from, the link she put at the end.

    It was a cute story . . . . and this is a cute story.  I like news more than cute. And if I am going to read news, I like the whole story.

    The stores she chose were highly, highly selective.

  47. “Keep it civil….” Tizzielish pointed out some very pertinent realisms. That you felt personally attacked speaks to your inability to take the criticism that journalism will naturally incur amongst a readership. I, too, felt a discordance between the High End market on Ashby/College and the others which cater predominantly to a socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhood, of which the Ashby/College area not a member. While I have no doubt that your feelings may be hurt by the discourse such articles might elicit, I also have no doubt the cadre of Berkeleyside journalists will be sure to yank any offending comments so that your gentle world isn’t rocked. 

    Seriously, historically these corner markets do little but serve over-priced unhealthy food-like items to a population who should have access to real groceries. Long has been the argument toward offering these communities real food in the corner markets, yet most make their bread an butter on liquor, Wonderbread and processed foods. Not all, but most. 

    In addition, those that sell alcohol are beacons to criminal intent, those seeking and selling drugs, and violence. 

    I do not think Laura’s nor Tizzielish’s comments should be construed as negative or personally offensive; they are unfortunate truths. 

  48. Laura, 

    Again, after just reading the story about Ici and posting my comment there about how your find the negative even in a story about ice cream, my hat goes off to you again (I need more hats) for pointing out the negative elements in this story about immigrant entrepreneurs who probably work harder than many at building their businesses in a very tough and competitive industry while enduring the recession.

  49. Tizzielish and Laura: 

    I suppose it’s possible to conceive of a publication that was purely hard-hitting, investigative reports. That seems to be what you’re looking for. We have a different perspective at Berkeleyside. 

    We do hard reporting, and we do things that are investigative. My definition for investigative journalism is broad: clearly we don’t yet have the resources to have someone spend several months on a single story, which would be great. But we do smaller slices of digging and investigating, like Frances’ recent coverage of medical marijuana. We want constantly to aim higher, of course, and we generally revel in the fact that we have a tough group of readers in Berkeley who are very demanding. 

    We also happily do other kinds of journalism. There’s nothing wrong in our minds with a feature that chooses one angle — who are the people behind these corner stores — and ignores other angles. In fact, there’s a lot right with such a feature: I enjoyed Sarah’s writing and Christina Diaz’s portraits are wonderful. 

    You clearly disagree. That’s fine. It’s slightly beside the point, however, to criticize an article for not being the article you would have written. The Internet is a big and welcoming place: there are many ways in which you could write the stories you want elsewhere. 

    We conceive of Berkeleyside as having room for all sorts of stories and perspectives. Most of the feedback we get from our readers suggests they like the mix. You’re always free to skip over the things that aren’t to your taste.

  50. Running tabs on alcohol sales, exactly. I was one of the few residents who gathered evidence about this problem during nuisance hearings. The result is less drunks on Adeline St near the BART station during the day

    Alina: Bitter hardly, courageous yes and fed up with the climate and culture of our neighborhood being dominated by drugs and alcohol addiction.

    It is unconscionable to cash an SSI check to pay for a tab on booze already consumed, but hey the owner’s kids went to private schools over the hill.

  51. WTF,

    You should check your facts, it was black activists working with the public health dept who spent Berkeley taxpayers $$ to place fresh produce in corner stores. This tax payer funded program  failed,  the produce wilted before being sold. But the good folks behind this effort are black food justice activists, once celebrated in previous Sarah Henry stories.

    Your dreaming if you think the city funds ideas white folks come up to improve south Berkeley health outcomes. 

  52. If you live in a south Berkeley neighborhood you would already know that these criticisms about poor store management allowing nuisance activity and  becoming magnets for drug sales and crime are hardly new, and was the subtext of owners comments. Alex’s comment stood out to me as blatantly false, as he was quoted  “We never have problems”.

    Our neighborhood associations made a concerted effort to keep our local stores involved in neighborhood improvements efforts, including Alex’s, and when his employees were slack and problems occurred  we stopped by and discussed it with him.

    You can not separate these issues when considering the impact of corner stores, especially if the reporter starts off saying “The corner store is a vital indicator of the economic, racial, and cultural makeup of any community.”

  53. If only there were more middle-class white people in Berkeley to tell the people of color how to snack properly!

  54. Thanks.  This was fun.  And the referenced article from The Bold Italic was also fun.  And so were the comments to that article.  Not so much the ones here.  We are a bitter bunch in Berkeley 🙁

  55. I think there is a deeper story here.  Several, perhaps.  Follow the money and parse the supply chains.

    The base-line inventory of most of these and similar shops is not especially reflective of any particular neighborhood so much as it is reflective of the dominance of a few particular supply chains.  For example, snack-shelf space all comes from a mostly Frito-Lay truck.   Other shelf inches are similarly dominated by a small number of suppliers.  These stores (exceptions in some you profiled) are mostly just by-the-numbers.  They all use the same formula but then some improvise over that.  So, yes, it’s interesting when some of them start doing produce or sandwiches and such — but even then, I think you’ll find that the supply chain is often limited in options and…. interesting.     To say that the basic business model is reflective of their local  context is, for most of them and for the most typical examples, to say little more than that they are situated near poverty and dominated by the usual corporate and grey market supply chains.  (There are some hopeful examples of partially bucking these trends in some of those you profile, which I understand to be part of your point!)

    Another thing to look more into is the common practice of running tabs.   There are a lot of vulnerable, older folks with alcohol problems who somewhat live out of these places on the basis of well meant but not obviously wise idea informal credit lines.    If their product lines were better or if they didn’t enable those elders with easy credit there’d be no issue but the combination of sketchy products and prices plus messed up lending …. something’s not right there.   And, at the same time, without these places some of these same elders would be eating fewer meals (however poor the quality).    It’s a touchy issue.

  56. Tizzielish,

    I find the tone and content of your comment offensive. Anyone who follows my reporting knows that I routinely cover food justice and food access issues for a variety of outlets, including this very site.

    Here’s what this post is intended to be: A snap shot of the people who own or work at the corner stores in the South Berkeley community. It makes no claim to be a report on crime in the surrounding area or an investigative expose of these local convenience stores.

    Rather, I wanted to let the images and interviews speak for themselves and let people draw their own conclusions. The juxtaposition between different neighborhoods, so close together physically but worlds apart in many ways, was intentional and reflects the reality of the community we live in.

    Call me crazily optimistic, but in neighboring Oakland, which I also cover, some corner stores are starting to sell fresh, organic produce and there is a national healthy corner store movement that is working to turn around the food on offer in these convenience stores. This strikes me as a worthy endeavor for food justice advocates in our own community and may well be the subject of a future post.

    As mentioned, this is one in an occasional series on corner stores here. On my list of stories to cover is, indeed, the shuttered Yemini Grocers’ Association.

    As has been mentioned repeatedly in this arena, kindly keep your responses civil and free of personal attack, which does nothing to foster healthy debate here, which we at Berkeleyside seek to encourage.

  57. I agree with lauramenard, this is a puff piece.  Is Sarah Henry seriously positing the theory that these corner stores are foundational to our community’s life?  Look at some of the facts in this story. A Yemeni owner reports that his clientele is almost entirely African American. That seems like a  key part to a story about corner stores. Why are immigrants able to gain a toe hold in this country’s economic life by selling overpriced food products to African Americans systematically locked out of participating in this country’s economic life?

    And look at some of these photos. One photo shows nothing but junk food on sale. Another photo shows cigarettes and chewing tobacco? These are the foundations of community life?

    And, get serious, a market selling lots of gluten-free products in The Elmwood, at Ashby and College Ave is presented in the same article in the same tone as the shop at Ashby and Martin Luther King? As if those two different locations are not worlds apart in terms of clientele, neighborhood .. not to mention product. Just look at the photos Ms. Henry chose for each store. The shop in The Elmwood sells yuppie gluten-free product, which is light years from the proucts we see in the photo of the Ashby/Martin Luther King shop:  manufactured fakefood.  

    I bet, Sarah Henry, that you had a pleasant, booster-ish impulse to highly the corner store. I know that berkeleyside has a mission to focus on Berkeley, that berkeleyside does not do investigative journalism and I guess there is some kind of propaganda agenda going on here. I bet berkeleyside likes to see itself as focussing on positive aspects of this community. But, come on, is it a service  to the community to pretend that store at Ashby and Martin Luther King is selling, based on the photo, the kind of stuff typically sold at inner city corner stores:  manufactured food with low nutritional value that reinforces many of the entrenched problems of life in the inner city.

    Although, if I try hard, I can see some benefit to presenting these small business owners in a positive light, and I know that berkeleyside is not focussed on investigative journalism, I think this piece reads like propaganda.

    One of the most interesting details in this story is not addressed: why so many Yemen immigrants running corner stores.

    Has Ms. Henry noticed the now-abandoned corner store at the corner of Alcatraz and Sacramento? In the back half of that building, there is an also-now-abandoned storefront with old signs indicating the space used to house a professional association for Yemeni Grocery Store owners. I’d love to know the story behind that professional association.

    A puff piece.  And slanted. I think I do understand the power and benefit of helping a community, through journalism, see itself in a positive light. If you put lipstick on a pig, it is still a pig.  Most corner stores in Berkeley are the center of neighborhood problems and the institution of corner stores selling to inner city residents with few food options is a serious matter to the whole community. And the fact that immigrants are drawn to runnning these corner stores is a serous dynamic that has important community meaning.

    And what the heck does Ike Shehedah have to do with this story? How is it relevant that one storeowner knows a famous sandwich maker? Did Ike pay you to give him that meaningless ink?

  58. Nice to see an article about my favorite corner store in Berkeley! The owner Anwar and manager Obaida are super nice and they make great sandiches!

  59. I’ve noticed that the Derby Market has been closed. It seemed pretty sudden. What happened? They were nice folks.

  60. Sarah,

    Did you consider asking the owners if they have ever been robbed? Or obtaining data from police dpt.

    Alex the guy in the photo from McGee’s Market was pistol whipped and robbed not long ago, and then he lies in your story. There has been many problems there, the house currently for sale just three doors down the way still has the bullet hole from a shootout between Ferguson/ Harris several years ago.

    The good folks at Ashby Super Market, got it right, they don’t sell alcohol.

    However I was beat up by mean drunk girls around 9pm after the store was closed two years ago.

    J&B lost their license due to violations, passed the license to another family member, that eventually failed and the use permit was revoked. When Black and White Liquors was reviewed for public nuisance, a deal was stuck with owner Sucha, he owns the building leased by Ashby Market, a deal was made allowing Sucha to continue alcohol sells and the Ashby location would no longer have an alcohol use permit,  the new tenant agreed. 

    We have one corner store within 500 ft of each other within the quadrant of MLk and Sacramento, Ashby and Derby. There is already an over-concentration of alcohol outlets per area.

    Considering that for years the Community Action Team of the City of Berkeley public health dept has identified corner stores as a negative factor feeding the racial health disparities  and a nexus for street crime, this article reads like a fluff piece.