For years, Ramey Market in Fort Worth’s historic Stop Six neighborhood has been an utterly unremarkable convenience store selling the typical assortment of sundry items, snacks and sodas. It was just the closest place to buy cigarettes or lottery tickets or beer.
But on a sunny Saturday last month, it was the scene of a party. The Dunbar High School Marching Band and the school’s cheerleaders offered performances. It was a kind of grand re-opening: This convenience store had been turned into small neighborhood grocery.
A bright mural adorns the east-facing wall. The tobacco advertisements are gone from the window. When you open the door, fresh fruit and vegetables the first thing you see. Signs throughout the shop point to healthier options. And there’s a small deli counter and a grab-and-go case with healthy snacks.
Champenelle Washington lives nearby and had noticed the changes a week earlier. There just aren’t places in Stop Six where she can buy fresh, healthy food, she says. The nearest grocery store is miles away, so Washington was stoked when she walked down to Ramey Market and bought an onion a few days earlier.
“I was never able to get an onion this close,” Washington said. “Being able to walk and get it, that’s a good thing because you can get exercise.”
“It’s a historic neighborhood and community, and there’s a lot of pride here,” said Brandy O’Quinn from the city-wide Blue Zones Project health initiative. “But there’s also been a lot of neglect.”’
This predominantly African-American neighborhood — called “Stop Six” because it was the sixth stop on a Fort Worth to Dallas train line that once ran through the neighborhood — faces a host of challenges. It has high crime rates, low levels of education, and nearly 80 percent of households here are low- to moderate-income.
“Because they don’t have access to healthy food, we see double-digit rates of obesity, chronic diseases and diabetes,” O’Quinn said.
Stop Six is also the focus of a handful of projects aimed at turning things around.
The city of Fort Worth is piloting a $2.6 million revitalization project tearing down vacant buildings, adding street lights and fixing roads. The Fort Worth school district has a holistic Stop Six Initiative to expand health care access in early childhood and engage the whole community in getting kids career or college ready. And the Blue Zones Project has worked with local schools and with Ramey Market to improve healthy options, based on the idea that little nudges will help Fort Worth residents make healthier decisions.
“Stop Six has some momentum,” said SaJade Miller, the principal at Dunbar High School. “We have a community that’s engaged. We have external stakeholders who are willing to come in and embrace our needs and not judge or not to dictate from afar, but to be a part of the work with us.”
Dunbar is one of four public schools within blocks of Ramey Market. There’s also a middle school and two elementary schools, so students come here a lot.
“If they’re eating hot chips and fried food and other junk all day, then eventually that’s not nourishing the mind like it should,” Miller said.
Dunbar High School art students painted the mural on the building’s exterior. Miller says he’s worked to make Dunbar an environment that promotes healthy decisions. He started working with the Blue Zones project and Ramey Market so that message gets reinforced when the kids leave campus. It’s part of a holistic philosophy he says is key to improving outcomes for kids in this neighborhood.
“This isn’t a panacea of all things health related in Stop Six,” he said. “But this is a step in the right direction.”
The message seems to be trickling down to the students.
“For kids in the band like me, we want something that’s gonna hydrate us and keep us healthy so we can keep moving,” said Kevyona Lucas, a 15 year-old in the Dunbar marching band. “We don’t want something that’s going to ... leave us feeling gloomy.”
Desiree Crossley, a Dunbar senior, says students like the fruits because they can eat them in class, and “because they’re sweeter than anything that’s in the store.”
Sam Moulegiet has owned the store for nearly two years. He started making the changes to the store last fall. Chips and drinks, he says, are still his biggest seller. But Moulegiet, who is originally from Ethiopia, has begun to see a change among kids who come into the store.
“They started changing habits,” he said. “They’d start by picking up candies, they’d debate with themselves, and put it back and get fruits — especially, they like to get fruits.”
Carla Garcia grew up going to Ramey Market, and the 42-year-old says the changes now are a return to old. It used to be a grocery with a deli that sold prepared goods and sandwiches. Then, she said, it went downhill and got a reputation for having old products and bad produce.
“Now, they’ve re-painted, they’ve reconstructed, they’ve moved things around,” she said. “Every time I come in, I notice it’s changed, in a good way.”