City Leads Charge To Bring Grocery Stores To South And West Sides
Multiple grocery stores are set to break ground or reopen across the South and West sides as the city steps up efforts to fill the gaps in areas where food insecurity and food deserts have become the norm.
As part of the city’s community development program, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced last week that nearly $50M in grants will be distributed to 79 economic development projects across Chicago aimed at improving underserved neighborhoods.
Among those projects is the reopening of six Save A Lot grocery stores on Chicago’s South and West sides.
The city also will soon close on a shuttered 15K SF Aldi at 3835 West Madison St. in West Garfield Park, with plans to resell, lease or repurpose it. That move comes in the wake of Aldi abruptly closing that store and another location in Auburn Gresham, leaving many residents with little to no local grocery access amid rising inflation and food prices.
“It’s about discrimination,” 17th Ward Alderman David Moore told the Chicago Sun-Times last week at a protest outside the Gresham Aldi. “On the South and West sides of Chicago, there’s one store for every 110,000 people. That’s a problem dealing with equity.”
The Aldi closures follow Whole Foods' pullout from its Englewood location in May and the shuttering of multiple Save A Lot stores that city officials say have further spurred the cycle of disinvestment and poverty.
About 11.8% of Cook County residents were projected to live in food-insecure households last year, according to the Greater Chicago Food Depository, leaving many residents to take on the responsibility of feeding their communities through Black-owned farms, community fridges and grocery delivery services.
These organizations have served as anchors for residents who say proposals for grocery stores have historically been built on broken promises — promises the city now says it intends to set right.
“Aldi should be ashamed of the way in which it’s handling itself," Lightfoot said at a July 18 city council meeting, slamming the chain for closing the stores with no notice to the community or employees. "Aldi cannot just have lucrative stores on the North Side and abandon the South and West Side.”
Aldi attributed the closures to crime.
“We want to make sure that the shopping experience of people on the South and the West Side is every bit as enjoyable as downtown and on the North Side," Lightfoot said. "Our residents deserve no less.”
Days later, Lightfoot announced six Save A Lot grocery stores would be reopened by Cleveland-based retail grocery platform Yellow Banana, which received $13.5M of the $50M in new community block grant funding. Yellow Banana will reopen stores in Auburn Gresham, Morgan Park, South Chicago, South Shore, West Garfield Park and West Lawn.
Yellow Banana co-founder and Managing Director Michael Nance said the program, whose mission is to provide working-class families healthy, affordable food options in dignified spaces, can funnel money back into the community by being intentional about real estate ownership.
“We understand that it’s not easy to do business in these locations," Nance said. "We do not think stores should be pulling out or divesting in these communities without engaging in dialogue with those communities if they can."
Yellow Banana owns and runs 38 stores under the Save A Lot banner across Cleveland, Chicago, Milwaukee, Dallas and Jacksonville, Florida. The Black-owned business was born in 2021, the brainchild of three founders from underinvested and blue-collar communities.
Decades of discrimination in real estate have left a lasting mark on Black and Brown communities, Nance said, and a new report from a team at Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas’ office bears that out. The report argues federal redlining paved the way for urban decay and fueled an ongoing exodus of Black people from Chicago and other major U.S. cities. Vacant lots, abandoned homes and boarded-up businesses are a direct result of this, which tax laws and county programs have done little to remedy, the Chicago Tribune reported.
“We don’t want to be on the wrong side of real estate arbitrage as so often takes place in these communities,” Nance said.
Nance said the organization plans to invest in each of the neighborhoods in which its stores are located, hoping that private-public partnerships will form within the communities. This includes paying employees a competitive wage, keeping prices of staple grocery items such as eggs, milk and butter lower than competitors, and making long-term investments in real estate that will allow residents to have control in their neighborhoods.
“We are in some ways symbolic of an ability for Black entrepreneurs to invest in their communities and to own the underlying real estate,” he said. “With this plan to open these stores, we’re looking to acquire underlying real estate and reduce our overhead costs, considering the mortgage we’re paying on these stores. Right now we’re paying a lease to the landowner and not building equity in the business, and we intend to change that.”
New city efforts to reclaim real estate for grocery stores in underserved areas comes as Cincinnati-based grocery giant Kroger announced plans to expand the company’s delivery service in Chicago in a move it said would address food deserts. Kroger is incentivizing customers to become members of the program Boost by Kroger by offering free delivery service, perks and points.
For its part, Yellow Banana anticipates wrapping up all renovations of its in-person sites by the end of 2022.
“We are in a much better position to have our ear to the ground with these Save A Lot changes," Nance said. "We’re excited that the city is supporting us in this effort."