What can we say? It’s been almost a year since we had our soft opening and Boxcar is still chugging along. It’s an amazing place to be. One year old. If Boxcar were a child we would still be in the sensori-motor stage according to Piaget.
We have learned this year. Boy, have we learned. We have learned about what it takes to get a store like this open. We have learned that not just anybody could get a store like this open. (Not yet, but that is part of our purpose). We have learned that all neighborhoods are ready for a store like ours. We have learned that just opening our doors has inspired so many people to not only think about eating better but to actually have the ability to do so.
We have also learned that a store like this does not exist independently of the city around it. As does a child, it needs support, a coterie of caretakers that will enable it to reach its full potential.
Right now, there are obstacles that hinder Boxcar’s development based on the model we have provided. Some of them, we as parents, have created. We have not been as disciplined in taking the necessary steps to improve operations. We have felt at times, overwhelmed, with the enormity of the task before us. Because of what we’re doing there is a fair amount of work to do within the immediate business community that has consumed our energy and time and pulled us more and more outside the store. It is necessary work but, it’s like both parents having a two full-time jobs while raising a very precocious child.
While we were doing this outside work our child was neglected. Right now, we have an unruly child on our hands that needs to be disciplined. It is still a good child, but it needs to be babied a little. To know it is the priority.
Other issues we have encountered have to do with the vendors that we are trying to bring into our store. These issues affect not only our store, but every food vendor who is trying to make a living preparing and selling food here in Metro Atlanta.
The lack of a shared kitchen in Fulton County is a huge hindrance to the food community. A shared kitchen can bring not only revenue to the county and city, it can help support the type of small-scale entrepreneurialism that helps make families self-sufficient. Especially women and mothers. Without an affordable shared kitchen readily accessible to the community, vendors cannot receive proper licensing to sell and package food for our store. DeKalb County has shared kitchens. Cobb County has shared kitchens. Fulton County has no shared kitchen. This creates a bit of a conflict with the way City of Atlanta permits food vendors because the county insists on particular standards around kitchen licensing for food vending.
So as we’re helping to grow a local economy, the setbacks we encounter along the way are at happening at the policy level and impacting community and economic development as well as our store’s development.
As we’re seeing this from the food vending side, our farmers are seeing this from the urban agriculture side. The lack of policy around urban agriculture is consuming a large amount of time and energy from the food community as well when we could be focusing more on streamlining distribution. Distribution has been a major hurdle for us as well as our farmers.
Imagine running a business that deals with perishables and not having an efficient way to get those perishables to the buyer. A lot of people are doing a lot of running around. It takes us out of our businesses. It interferes with our schedules. It wastes gas. More efforts need to be made to help remove the distribution obstacles from the small urban farmers’ plates. This presents another huge opportunity for entrepreneurialism for someone who understands the farming community.
Know that we at Boxcar Grocer are still learning and working at being a better resource for our community. Know that each week presents a new set of challenges that we are tackling to get this train moving at full speed. And know that there are going to be some major changes around here in the coming weeks. It is an exciting time indeed!
© 2012 The Boxcar Grocer.