Seattle: Could Pop-Up Grocers be a Solution to Food Deserts?

Image courtesy of Stockbox's website.

By Hanna Brooks Olsen |

Image courtesy of Stockbox's website.

Anyone who’s attempted to live in Belltown knows–not being close to a grocery store (that’s affordable. Don’t leave me a comment about the Whole Foods, please) is a serious inconvenience. Sure, you can buy some staples at Rite Aid or an over-priced bodega, or you can schlep it to QFC, but for the most part, living more than half a mile from a real grocery store is pretty awful, especially if you’re carless. And that’s not even a real food desert.

According to the USDA, 23 million people living in America lack ready access to fresh food that’s both nutritious and affordable. This includes 4 key areas in South King County which have been identified as food deserts, and which impact over 15,000 people in our region. And while some in King County think that bullying bodega owners into carrying low-profit-margin and highly perishable fruits is the way to solve the food desert problem locally, others are taking a more pro-active approach. Enter Stockbox Grocers.

Stockbox Grocers, which is still mostly in the fundraising and prototype phase, intends to open a miniature market, which will be able to bring affordable, healthy food options to areas where there are none. The tiny grocery store will, much like a food truck, be able to make the rounds to parking lots and other areas, bringing with it essential food items.

With the popularity of mobile and pop-up everything, it was only a matter of time before someone put a tiny grocery store in something that could move–though Stockboxes stores are ultimately envisioned as permanent fixtures. So instead of putting it on a truck, Stockbox Grocers co-founder Jacqueline Gjurgevich put it in something even more industrial: a shipping container.

Shipping containers, which are durable, sturdy, and being used for just about everything these days, seem like a natural fit for a grocery store that could travel. They can be loaded and unloaded easily, are waterproof, and tend to be fairly inexpensive, as far as pre-built units go. And because Stockbox uses reclaimed containers, there’s very little need for new materials.

It’s exciting to see a local, innovative solution to a problem that’s mostly being handled as something broken that needs to be fixed–rather than something with a gaping hole that needs something new to fill it. Instead of treating food deserts as an oversight, which simply leaning heavily on existing store owners (who make most of their money on beer and cigarettes, and have little motivation to carry fresh produce), or filling the gap with big, questionable entities (like Wal-Mart or Target, whose new ‘express stores’ are partially a response to food deserts), Stockbox and other like it, including Peaches & Greens in Detroit and Fresh Moves in Chicago, are bringing in a local solution that’s interesting and attainable.

Stockbox plans to deploy its first little store in Delridge this fall, with 2 more stores in the works after that. You can give them a hand at their Kickstarter page, or get more information from their Facebook.