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New Agtivists: Brother-Sister Duo Revamp The Corner Store

Alison Cross and her older brother Alphonzo saw a vast need for fresh food in the Castleberry Hill neighborhood of Atlanta, where they’d spent time since they were kids. The community, which is adjacent to the Atlanta University Center, had seen both vibrance and decay, and was begging for transformation.

So the siblings decided to fill that need, and hatched a plan to open The Boxcar Grocer, a new food business. Alison, who studied architecture and worked as a video editor, and Alphonzo, with a background in fashion, describe the independent grocery store, which stocks local, organic, whole foods, as being at “the intersection of food justice and high-concept retail.”

And they’re right; it’s not your average corner store. The market looks modern, with lots of light, stainless steel, and wood. The shop, which had a “soft” opening in late October and celebrated its grand opening last Monday, sits in an area dotted with old railroad warehouses. African Americans own the majority of the storefront businesses. The neighborhood is undergoing a renaissance with small art galleries, graphic design firms, and a tattoo parlor that attract the typical urban mix of students, artists, and free thinkers.

Alison, 36, has also written about the personal inspiration for Boxcar (“This is Our Land“), the socioeconomic challenges of the food movement (“All the Foodies are Rich, All of the Farmers are White, But Some of Us are Still Cookin’“), and its shortcomings (“A Limited Engagement“) on the store’s blog.

I spoke with her recently about her hopes for the family business and the obstacles she and her brother have faced along the way. Read more