Mayor Catherine Pugh and Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke should see Baltimore’s corner stores and mini markets as a sign of opportunity for the city. Last month, Mayor Pugh visited West Baltimore corner stores as part of her Violence Reduction Initiative tour, and threatened to use the Health Department to fine and shut them down, as well as suggest changes to businesses’ operating hours. Implementing additional barriers to Baltimore’s small businesses would impact the city’s most vulnerable residents. Baltimoreans would face the harsh reality of limited food access, the loss of potential source of income, and an ever-increasing cityscape of empty and shuttered neighborhoods if corner stores were to shut down.
Disparaging comments from our public officials against the small-business owner matter, especially when those comments drive policy. Councilwoman Clarke has expressed interest in pursuing legislative efforts that would further stifle small business owners by using zoning to convert corner stores and taverns back to residential uses. Moves to burden small business with legislation and public policy would be detrimental to Baltimore’s delicate small business community.
In many areas of the city, neighborhood business owners are already struggling to survive, and with opposition like this, the city’s proud history of local entrepreneurship and small business continues to be overlooked. Baltimore cannot continue to create an environment and enforce regulations that stifle would-be entrepreneurs, especially those on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder.
In a city where 25 percent of residents live in food deserts and have a hard time accessing any food at all, encouraging the closure of corner stores and mini-markets that dot the city will only exacerbate the lack of food access for Baltimore’s most underserved communities.
A lack of access to food presents a major health problem for Baltimoreans for whom the closest grocery store is up to a mile away from where they live. For low-income families who rely on public transportation, and who might already live in areas with long bus routes, the only option for any food at all would be the local corner store or the mini market in walking distance. Mayor Pugh and Councilwoman Clarke should see the value in corner stores and work with them as allies to address food deserts, and declining entrepreneurship in the city.
Last April, Johns Hopkins’ Center for a Livable Future released the Maryland Food System Map to map-out food stores, supermarkets, corner stores and convenience stores across Maryland. The database could serve as a tool for Baltimore residents to find information related to food and food access. Efforts like this benefit both small business owners, and residents alike. Private and public efforts that lift entrepreneurs and their small businesses, instead of limiting them, result in thriving communities and can help tackle some of the city’s more intrinsic problems like crime and unemployment.
Baltimore’s small businesses are a vital, year-round source of employment and opportunity for those struggling to gain a foothold on the economic ladder. Treating corner stores as scapegoats does not promote thriving neighborhoods, address the Mayor’s “healthy food priority areas” for residents, or combat crime at its roots. Mayor Pugh should instead work with corner stores and other small businesses to encourage entrepreneurship in a city that desperately needs it.