Mike Little knows every nook and cranny of his South Side store, Little’s Village IGA, having worked there in one capacity or the other since age 11. Today, more than 45 years later, he clearly knows his customers almost as well as he knows his store. They are good, hard-working people, he says, adding that many residents don’t have a lot of money or advantages that others have and some struggle to put food on the table. Mike clearly takes pride in helping his customers do just that.
“We’re all about convenience,” says Mike. “Not everyone has a car and can drive every place. There are other stores around here, but if you are a 60-year-old woman do you want to walk a mile down the road just to go to a bigger store?”
Mike’s Parsons Avenue store is small, but it’s also incredibly clean and organized. He proudly points out the competitive pricing of his meats and the diversity of items he stocks. Recently he added even more healthy and nutritious options by connecting with Fresh Foods Here (FFH), the United Way-sponsored program that’s working to improve the availability of nutritious, affordable foods in Columbus neighborhoods.
Fresh Foods Here began as a pilot in 2011 after research showed that many central Ohioans live far from major food retailers or lack transportation to get to them. This lack of access to fresh produce and other healthy foods is a major contributor to higher rates of diet-related health issues in low-income neighborhoods.
Store owners like Mike who work with FFH agree to increase their inventory of healthy food and improve their store operations, while also engaging with community partners and residents to encourage healthy food choices. In return, stores receive coaching and specialized technical assistance, free advertising and outreach on behalf of their stores, and earned incentives such as display shelving and facade improvements. It’s an innovative concept that has grown to include 17 stores across central Ohio.
For Mike, though, it’s all about customer satisfaction. Fresh Foods Here brings a little something extra to Little’s Village IGA, he says, and shows he cares about his customers and their health.