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Global Obesity Prevention Center

Through the Eyes of a Local Baltimore City Store Owner


My name is Sarah Weber and I am the Communications Specialist at the Global Obesity Prevention Center (GOPC) at Johns Hopkins. My job entails me to do a lot of writing and promoting about many different topics, from the passing of a new policy to highlighting our elite faculty. I enjoy each subject I write about, especially this one.

hillen Hillen Grocery, located in East Baltimore, is part of over twenty stores and carryouts that work with one of the GOPC’s projects called the B’more Healthy Communities for Kids (BHCK). Owned and operated by Chrissy Paek, Hillen Grocery was established in 2007 to serve the city of Baltimore small, convenient groceries. Fortunately, for this city, the service doesn’t stop at supplying iced tea and sandwiches. Chrissy has a reputation for investing in her community and it wasn’t hard to tell when I showed up for our interview.

Dozens of customers came in and out while I was sitting with Chrissy, all different but each one said hello to Chrissy when they came in and goodbye when they left. To me, that’s respect you do not see too often. I asked Chrissy what she liked the most about being a storeowner and her response was “my customers.” She talked a great deal about her customers and her kids that come into the store. Chrissy said her customers have their own families but when the kids come into the store, they’re hers. She spoke about her kids that come running in on report card day to show her their good grades. Before BHCK, Chrissy would reward them with candy and chips but having learned about healthier options, she’s since switched to fruits and veggies.

hillen with customerNot all Chrissy’s kids are young enough to be rewarded with treats on report card day. Some of her kids are eighteen and older but that doesn’t mean a thing to Chrissy. They’re all hers to take care of. She often tries to steer them in the right direction and teach them a thing or two about hard work ethic.

Chrissy has been working with Johns Hopkins for just about three years now. She believes in BHCK’s mission and that one store can make all the difference. Before BHCK, her fruits were never fresh, always frozen. Now, she supplies her store with all sorts of fresh fruits from strawberries to grapes to watermelon. If she can’t sell the fruits that have a small shelf life, she gives them away to the customers that she feels need them the most. When asked what has been the biggest change since working with BHCK- “the kids get more involved, they look for the fruits and baked chips now,” she says. 

hillen 2Throughout the program, BHCK and B’more Healthy Retail Rewards supplied Hillen Grocery with two refrigerators to help supply and preserve healthy food options. Chrissy keeps one by the front door and one by the cashier, talk about product placement. During the school year Chrissy said “the kids love the fruit cups, I can’t keep the refrigerators stocked.” Chrissy also keeps healthy beverages like water and unsweetened beverages in the refrigerators. Now that she has a consistent supply, how about a consistent demand? That’s where BHCK comes in. Frequently, the program will offer taste-testing at Hillen Grocery. BHCK will feature different healthy foods and beverages that some customers have never tried. Chrissy thinks BHCK has helped make progess but she said “you have to take small steps, you can’t expect change in one day.”