Many of Brown’s stores are situated in what were previously considered “food desert” areas, characterized by a lack of accessible, affordable, fresh and healthy food. Brown saw the potential for a public/private partnership in these locations, where, as he describes, “society was paying a lot for the neglected and poor, but could invest some money up-front and end up paying less overall.” Brown sought to overcome the financial challenge of operating stores in these areas and to work closely with community members to create stores that would be appealing and respond to community preferences.
While aiming to create profitable supermarkets, Brown’s steadfast dedication to community interests and social issues is also clear. When poised to open one of his newer stores inPhiladelphia, Brown made a concerted effort to invite as many community members as possible to a planning meeting; approximately 200 local leaders, including clergy, politicians and police attended. Brown describes the meeting, commenting “we started a dialogue, and people were skeptical because they’d been let down before and they didn’t trust guys like me. But I said I’d be honest with them, and people gave me a chance. It was clear that no one else was trying to solve the [food desert] problem.” Brown’s success at opening stores in food desert areas traditionally excluded from grocers’ prospective store sites has earned him national recognition. Visitors from across theU.S.seek to learn about and to replicate Brown’s approach for financing and operating stores in disadvantaged communities.
Brown’s interest in sharing his model for opening thriving supermarkets in underserved, food desert areas was the impetus behind creating a nonprofit, UpLift Solutions. UpLift was born from Brown’s realization that grocers nationwide could assume an important role in addressing food deserts, particularly if they could receive proper guidance and assistance. As he describes it, “I wasn’t interested in starting stores nationally, but I wanted to help others do this. So the nonprofit started because I realized I needed to train people to do my job elsewhere.”