West Side grocery contenders make pitches
About 200 West Side residents and other stakeholders heard presentations May 6 at Crane High School from representatives of three grocery chains that would like to locate on the three-acre plot at the southeast corner of Madison and Western.
Jewel-Osco, Food 4 Less and Pete’s Fresh Market are the leading contenders to build the first full-service grocery store on the West Side in four decades, serving residents of West Haven, East Garfield Park and nearby communities that comprise one of Chicago’s so-called “food deserts.” The meeting represented the latest chapter in the ongoing saga to bring a major grocer to increasingly impatient residents.
Photo: Oji Eggleston
The noticeably diverse crowd of about 200 would like to see a grocery store, the first full-service grocer in their community in four decades, built and opened ASAP.
Mary Bonome, deputy commissioner with the city’s newly reorganized Department of Community Development, said the city has acquired 27 separate parcels and will soon close on the 28th and final one, which will make development possible after eight years of discussion and debate.
“We are completing what is proving to be a lengthy acquisition process,” Bonome said, responding to the frustration of some attendees at how long commercial development sometimes takes. “We don’t want it to go any longer than you do. Trust me: This has been a long and very expensive process from the city’s perspective.”
As site co-developer, NCP lead agency Near West Side Community Development Corp. has taken the lead role in shepherding the process, which will produce a linchpin project in the community’s 2007 quality-of-life plan, “Rising Like the Phoenix.”
Ald. Robert Fioretti (2nd) mentioned that a former candidate for the site, whose possible presence had provoked controversy at the first quality-of-life planning meeting at Near West, is no longer in the running.
“Some people wanted Aldi’s,” he said. “But you know what? I don’t think Aldi’s is a fit for the community.” That comment provoked applause from many in the noticeably diverse crowd, although one person shouted: “Hey, I shop at Aldi’s!”
Photo: Oji Eggleston
Ald. Robert Fioretti (2nd, at podium) co-hosted the meeting with representatives of the city's newly reorganized Department of Community Development.
The Department of Community Development will consult with the alderman’s office to determine how to move forward, Bonome said. Among the criteria considered will be timeline, financing, building design, community input, commitment to local hiring and to diversity in hiring, commitment to environmentally friendly features, the level of city assistance needed, and the total project cost.
She noted that the presentations were not specific project proposals and did not contain hard dollar figures, either overall or in terms of city assistance sought. “You’ve seen the first step,” she said. “Potentially, that will be the next step.”
Fioretti added that verbal promises made at the meeting would need to become words on paper in a contract. “It may be a different story from getting up here and making a presentation and saying they’re in favor of something,” he said. At the top of his list: “Who’s got real financing, and who doesn’t?”
The presenters drew from PowerPoint presentations to make their respective cases that they would be the best fit for the West Side. Their order of presentation was randomly determined, Fioretti said.
Jewel-Osco proposes a 49,000-square-foot full service store, with all of the standard departments and a drive-through pharmacy window, said Joseph McKeska, regional vice president of real estate for parent company Supervalu, who showed slides of the store design and site plan, with 175 parking spaces and landscaping.
The store would hire locally for its unionized workforce, McKeska said. With 35 stores in the city – the largest private employer in Chicago — Jewel has invested $176.4 million since 2007, he said.
Asked why Jewel had not been interested during an earlier round of RFPs in 2005-06, McKeska said the chain had been purchased three years ago by SuperValu. Since that time, “there’s been a renewed emphasis to try and build more stores in city neighborhoods,” he said.
Food 4 Less, a subsidiary of Kroger with 14 stores in the Chicago area and four in the city, features all the standard grocery departments, said Chris O’Leary, vice president and general manager of the Midwest division, who gave a “visual tour” via the PowerPoint.
The chain keeps consumer costs down by having shoppers bag their own groceries, offering a Sam’s Club-style “club packs” section with bulk quantities of certain items, and providing a “Wall of Values” that’s shipped directly from the manufacturer without being stored in a warehouse, O’Leary said.
Food 4 Less anticipates hiring 120 “members” for the store, at an average of $13 per hour, and its stores typically have 40 percent full time employees, he said, acknowledging that the lack of baggers would mean somewhat fewer jobs.
Asked why parent company Kroger had not been part of the earlier round of RFPs, O’Leary said the parent company had been expanding rapidly and was in the midst of stepping back to make sure it hadn’t over-expanded. Plus, the city’s land acquisition was incomplete at the time, he said.
Pete’s Fresh Market, which received widespread and immediate applause upon its introduction, has more than 1,000 employees in its six stores on the South and West Sides and anticipates creating 150 jobs at Madison and Western, said company representative Charlie Poulakis.
The family-owned, local chain offers most grocery departments, featuring produce front-and-center, although not pharmacy or liquor, and some in the audience applauded again when hearing the store would lack the hard stuff.
“This is a food desert, not a pharmacy desert,” Poulakis said, perhaps referring to the Walgreen’s across the street. “Pete’s likes to go into food deserts and make an oasis. This site fits Pete’s M.O.”
He shared several reviews from the Web site Yelp! that praised Pete's, including two from North Side residents who said they traveled to the store at 43rd and Pulaski for their produce and one from the chef at culinary school Kendall College, who said students are sent there to shop.
The question-and-answer session that followed revealed further information: All three stores said they accept Food Stamps and LINK cards, all offer organic produce, all provide job training before stores open, all offer manager training to those who qualify, all would self-finance, and all would take about nine months to build.
They differed in other respects: Pete’s would have a salad bar, Food 4 Less would not, and Jewel hasn’t yet determined, although each of the latter two would have pre-made salads. A butcher at Food 4 Less makes up to $22 per hour, at Pete’s $16 per hour, and Jewel pays union wages, but McKeska didn’t know how much, exactly. Pete’s and Food 4 Less envision other retail stores on the site; Jewel does not.
Asked how the city will track local hiring, Fioretti said his office is working closely with Near West to keep track of who’s who, a comment that provoked several minutes of cacophonous shouting about that topic, and possibly others, from a handful of men in the back of the room.
Another question wasn’t so much a question as a wish, praising Jewel for its value and Pete’s for the quality of its merchandise before asking tongue-in-cheek whether they could combine efforts. At this, O’Leary adroitly and purposefully strode to the mike and said, to laughter: “That’s called Food 4 Less.”
Article originally posted at: www.newcommunities.org
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