In North Richmond, a corner store means community

Flickr photo by Patrick Hoesly.

Dozens of bulletholes pockmark the façade of Lucky Braimah’s corner market. But that doesn’t discourage the affable Nigerian.

“The community, it is improving,” Braimah said, his lumbering accent still thick with his native country. “It is something I love to see.”

Braimah opened his store about seven years ago, just as the last of the restaurants and other businesses were leaving North Richmond. The community today is one of the poorest and most violent in California. A one-mile by one-mile grid of public housing projects and old homes, North Richmond today remains unincorporated county land, having been passed over several times over the decades during expansions by the City of Richmond.

And it has never been more bleak.

It was once the home of several famous blues clubs – the mention of the name of one joint, Minnie Lou’s, still brings smiles to old-timers’ faces. Restaurants were also plentiful, but today the area has just two corner grocers and a liquor store.

Braimah’s store sits on the corner of Market and Fifth Streets, a short stretch of potholed asphalt lined with several churches but just one business.  

“There is no money here, and so the people either pay more or have to go farther for their groceries,” Braimah said, admitting that his store’s small size means he can’t get bulk prices from suppliers.

But at least three times per week, Braimah pulls an all-day shift, chatting with his customers and making sandwiches and other snacks. He resists the temptation to sell alcohol, despite its promise of increased profits. 

Customers say Braimah’s store is one of the few bright spots in the neighborhood.

“It’s a good thing, a black-owned business right here,” said Cedric Kelley, 34. “You don’t see that too often.”

Listen to Robert Rogers' story about Lucky Braihmah's market here.