Liquor, tobacco, processed food, and sugary snacks: this is the range of products that are far from healthy available in convenience stores. Yetthese stores have become people’s resource for meeting daily needs in deprived neighborhoods in the United States. In her book, Convenience Stores as Social Spaces: Trust and Relations in Deprived Neighborhoods in the U.S., Cosima Werner explores the contested meanings of these stores and their function as social hubs in a social fabric where poverty, violence, and social neglect are part of peoples’ daily life. Despite the strict security measures around the stores, language barriers, and cultural differences that make convenience stores appear as the antithesis of social spaces, trustful relationships are crucial for residents to access resources such as loans, food, drinks, or information to make ends meet. The concepts of trust and mistrust shed light on the fragility of trust within these communities. Through ethnographic research conducted in Chicago and Detroit, she reveals the unique ways in which these stores are viewed and utilized by residents.
Cosima Werner is postdoctoral fellow in the Geography Department at Kiel University, Germany.
List of Tables and Figures
Introduction: At the Store
Chapter 1: Social Spaces and the Meaning of Trust
Chapter 2: Practices of Convenience Food Shopping
Chapter 3: Spatialities of Convenience Stores
Chapter 4: The Neighborhoods‘ Decline
Chapter 5: The Muddle of Daily Life
Chapter 6: Practices of Social Distinctions
Chapter 7: Practices of Trust: Relations between Immigrant Shop Owners and Black Clientele
Conclusion: Convenience Stores as Social Spaces
Epilogue – Back at the Store
Appendix: People in this Study
About the Author
In neighborhoods lacking supermarkets, convenience stores often become residents' sole source of food and beverages. Werner explores the social relations that occur within and around two liquor stores in predominately Black and under-resourced neighborhoods, one in Chicago and the other in Detroit. Her main concern is how poor people manage to support themselves through low-wage jobs or hustling and by engaging in mutually supportive relationships. In addition to selling beer, alcohol, and food, these stores offer part-time jobs, extend credit, and provide places to meet. Her ethnographic research enables Werner to introduce readers to residents, store owners and their employees, local drug dealers, and homeless people with the text toggling between the stores and neighborhood life. She adopts the perspective of her informants and is dismissive of most efforts—deemed moralistic—to aid them. The writing is awkward and the text too redundant, with the author frequently repeating what she has just told readers. Nonetheless, the documentation of the two stores and how poor people relate to them has value for understanding what being poor means in the US. Recommended. Advanced undergraduates through faculty.
Werner provides us with a radically new, open rendition of an age-old bugaboo in the struggling U.S. city, the corner liquor store. Rich ethnographic analysis reveals a vision of these stores tied to complicated human needs and aspirations which too few urbanists have recognized. This is a must read for anyone seeking to understand the complexities of daily urban life in the current U.S. city.
Werner’s book is an extensive analysis of the neighborhood corner store in two of the United States’ most complicated cities: Detroit, Michigan and Chicago, Illinois. Employing traditional ethnographic analysis, Werner’s research ambitiously addresses every aspect of the corner store: the layout of the store, the food and products being sold, its location, and the surrounding neighborhood, as well as its owners, employees and customers that frequent these spaces. Werner’s gaze as a white woman and social scientist from Germany provides a distinctive analysis that exposes the overlapping ways in which race, class, geography, gender, need, tenacity, and trust come together and play out in the social spaces of the convenience store.