Arnett Woodall: Changing the game by transforming drug corner into safe haven

Cherri Gregg
February 18, 2020 - 5:00 am
Arnett Woodall of West Phillie Produce

Cherri Gregg/KYW Newsradio

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Arnett Woodall loves his community, and he’s proud of that. 

“I’m not going to compromise myself,” he said. “I’m going to stay true to the people.”

Woodall owns West Phillie Produce, a corner store on 62nd Street near Ludlow Street. But it’s not a typical bodega. Woodall offers healthy food options, and his shop also serves as a community hub.

The West Philadelphia High School grad sells fare like smoothies, water ice, fruit salad and party trays while also teaching the youth how to become chefs and work in various trades.  

West Phillie Produce community cooking class
Courtesy of West Phillie Produce
“Give them jobs and you teach them and you train them,” he said. “It works.”

Woodall is confident in his approach to community transformation, because he's seen it firsthand. When he initially considered opening a business, the 60th Street corridor was rife with violence and drugs. In fact, his corner used to be a drug corner. 

Woodall wanted to support the community by creating a safe haven. 

“I’ve lost loved ones to violence. I’ve lost loved ones to drug overdoses,” he said. “We needed a hub to support the community.” 

Woodall — who began his career working in juvenile justice at Sleighton Farm School in the vocational education department — decided to get young people involved early on. When youth asked for a produce store, he worked to make their vision reality. 

“There was nothing here,” he recalled. “We built the whole thing ground up using the youth mixed with skilled labor.” 

After West Phillie Produce opened in 2009, Woodall expanded its services. It’s now home to a book club, chess club, healthy eating club and garden club.

And thanks to support from Whole Foods, West Phillie Produce gives away free produce three times a week. Over the past few years, Woodall said they’ve given away 97,000 tons of food. 

West Phillie Produce volunteering
Courtesy of West Phillie Produce
Through A&W Community Solutions, Woodall also trains youth in landscaping and construction. They then hire young people from all over the city for an effort called Team Clean to beautify the neighborhood. 

Woodall later founded the 60th Street West Market Street Business Association, which acts as a bridge between the community and local businesses and aims to improve the 60th Street business corridor.

With several cameras placed strategically around the building, surveillance video from Woodall’s shop helps police solve and prevent crimes.

“We are the town watch from here,” Woodall said of patrolling the corridor. “We patrol the community right from our camera system.” 

But Woodall doesn’t just sit behind the camera; he’s out in the community. In 2013, for instance, a woman had an aneurysm and crashed her car into a nearby building on Market Street. He ran into the building to help and pulled another passenger from the car.

“Our building shook,” he remembered. “It was just like in the movies. As soon as I got out, the car blew up.” 

Woodall has been lauded as a hero on other occasions as well. Last year, he helped save a mother and daughter who were caught in the middle of a crossfire. The incident prompted him to launch his “Get Down, Don't Look Around” campaign.

“We teach that,” he explained. “As soon as you hear those shots, people need to know to get down so they can stay alive.” 

As a father of three sons, Woodall wants the transformation along the West Market Street corridor to become a national example. He believes heightened surveillance and increased presence of town watch in these corridors can help support and save families.

He sustains motivation from the youth. 

“They are the future, and nobody is listening to them,” he said. “They are crying out asking for help.”

There are still challenges, and Woodall said he needs support from more resources. 

“We need real help to take our community back,” he added. “We can save more lives.” 

In the meantime, Woodall is hopeful. He’s changing the game by transforming his neighborhood. 

“Our work is reaching across the city,” he said. “We can make change.”

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Gamechangers is led by KYW Newsradio's community affairs reporter Cherri Gregg. It recognizes 10 individuals or organizations that are making a positive impact on communities of color. 

For a full list of 2020’s Gamechangers, check back here. One honoree will be announced each weekday between Feb. 10 and 21. The awards ceremony takes place on Feb. 27 at The Met Philadelphia.