No longer a typical liquor store, Hank’s in Hyde Park now features fresh food and is a community center.
By Jason Lewis
Hank’s Mini Market has received a major facelift, and it’s exactly what the community needs and deserves.
The market opened 20 years ago on Florence Avenue, a block east of Crenshaw Boulevard, and it was an ordinary corner liquor store, just like every other corner liquor store in South Los Angeles. The market sold liquor, soda, and the typical junk food. But Kelli Jackson, who is the daughter of Hank, had a vision for what she wanted to see in the community in which she grew up.
After attending Westchester High School, she obtained a degree in business and art from Dillard University, where she became a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, and a masters degree in public arts from USC, where she also took community development classes. Instead of taking her talents to more affluent areas where there are more opportunities, Jackson decided that she would use her abilities for the betterment of her community.
“I just got to thinking about how things are changing in the city but not on this side of the city,” she said. “My studies really got me to thinking how we are always talking about how we can help uplift communities. How we can reimagine places and spaces. So over time, all of my studies and experiences really linked back to this store. Knowing that this is where I'm supposed to be. This is what my purpose is. My impact for our community always led back to this market.”
Jackson became a member of the L.A. Food Policy Council’s Healthy Neighborhood Market Network, which is a program that supports entrepreneurs as they work to bring healthy and affordable food options to underserved communities across Los Angeles.
“I learned about food deserts and that we are in the middle of one,” she said. “Food deserts are a serious issue here and I wanted this store to be a part of the solution.”
Food deserts are areas where it is difficult to buy affordable and good-quality fresh food. While there is a Ralph’s grocery store a little more than a mile north of Hank’s Mini Market, that is not very helpful for people who do not drive. People without cars rely heavily on markets that are within walking distance.
“We all mostly drive so we don't think about the people who do not have cars,” Jackson said. “Ralph's is close, but it's not all that close when you don't have a car.”
Jackson had a vision of transforming Hank’s Mini Market into a store that sold fresh and healthy produce. She also wanted a store that was clean and had new and up-to-date amenities, just like stores in more affluent areas. To help her achieve this goal, the L.A. Food Policy connected her with Sweetgreens, whose aim is to inspire healthier communities, starting with the way people think about food. Also, California FreshWorks Fund, a mission-driven lending network that supports enterprises that increase access to healthy food in California's low-income communities, and numerous area community groups and local residents also assisted in bringing Jackson’s vision to life.
The designer of Sweetgreens created a layout for Hank’s Mini Market that was based on Jackson’s visions of having an art and community space.
“When the kids would come and hang out in the old space there really wasn't much room for them,” she said. “They were kind of in the way when the customers would come in.”
The large table gives children a place to be creative, and the space was recently used by nursing students from Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science to perform free blood pressure screenings.
While junk food is prominently featured at most corner markets, the new layout of Hank’s Mini Market funnels people directly to the healthy food as soon as they walk in the door.
“I've found that our customers who typically purchase unhealthy items are now picking up apples, oranges, and avocados,” Jackson said. “We're getting people comfortable with the idea of eating healthy and then letting them choose what they want. We do still have Cheetos and other food like that. The unhealthy food is in here but it's just not highlighted.”
Hank’s Mini Market still sells alcohol, but Jackson took down the beer signs to make the place look more appealing.
A store like this is very impactful to the community because it is owned by somebody who is from and lives in this area. While the renovations were happening, many local residents feared that the store was sold to somebody outside of the community.
“Some people thought that it was not going to be the same people owning the store,” Jackson said. “They thought that somebody else came in and took over, and was going to create a different space. But when they see that our family is still here then they take more pride in this market. Some people say that this place is too nice to be over here. But it's not. It's exactly what we should have. We don't have enough of this. We deserve more, and we deserve this.”