Monday, October 21, 2013

Supply Side: Pop-up Design Culture Addresses Food Deserts

Temporary urbanism, pop-up culture and sustainable architecture often meet in the re-use of shipping containers for everything from restaurants, offices, retail outlets and even one Starbucks location. San Francisco's Octavia Street is veritable gallery of re-use prototypes, with a beer garden, coffee shop, gourmet ice-cream store and a boutique menswear store all housed in various configurations of shipping containers. Shipping containers are a popular 'green' architecture material because they are durable, easy to come by, and represent an enormous embodied energy. 

One start-up has found a use for shipping containers that addresses food deserts, providing access to healthy, organic, and often local, produce in Seattle neighborhoods that lack other grocery store options. (The USDA estimates that more than 23 million Americans live in food deserts.) Stockbox Neighborhood Grocery was the brainchild of two MBA students who envisioned small, low-cost stores housed in shipping containers located in parking lots. The stores would stock the most common, high-turnover items, and rely on customers to help decide what should be stocked. The use of containers created a low-startup cost compared to brick-and-mortar, and the small size of the stores would mean low overhead and operating expenses. The small size and technically temporary nature of the store's design also allows for quick implementation, avoiding lengthy code and design reviews.

 The two initial stores have been so popular that they quickly outgrew the shipping containers and expanded into permanent structures, but the company has plans to continue to expand the container stores in the Seattle region and nationally. More details on the business plan can be found here. While I might wish for more innovation on the design side of the store, the mission of the store is solid, and successful.