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Days after Whole Foods closed its once-lauded Englewood store, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot blasted the grocer as “not a good partner, period.”
“They have not collaborated. They have not come to the table. We know who they are,” Lightfoot said Wednesday.
The mayor made those comments ahead of a unanimous City Council vote to grant $13.5 million in tax-increment money to private developers to reopen a Save-A-Lot in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood and rehabilitate five other Save-A-Lots on the South and West sides.
Lightfoot decried the lack of grocery options on the South and West sides as a “historic wrong.”
“The problem of food deserts in our city is real, and, unfortunately, it has persisted for far too long,” she said.
She then gave shoutouts to a variety of grocery stores that operate throughout Chicago’s disinvested neighborhoods — before turning to Whole Foods, which shut its store at 63rd and Halsted streets last weekend after it opened with much fanfare during Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s time in office.
The city announced the $13.5 million grant to Yellow Banana this summer. The company, which is owned by Cleveland-based investment firm 127 Wall Holdings LLC, said it planned to use the money to reopen the Auburn Gresham location that has been closed since 2020. It also plans to acquire and upgrade the five other stores, which Yellow Banana has operated since 2021 but does not own.
The city funding awarded to Yellow Banana comes after a spate of grocery store closures on the South and West sides, frustrating residents and elected officials who say grocery companies are leaving residents without sufficient access to healthy and affordable foods.
“We want to be the grocer of choice for communities and cities that are grappling with food insecurity,” Yellow Banana co-founder Michael Nance has previously told the Tribune. The company operates nearly 40 stores under the Save-A-Lot banner across a handful of cities, including Milwaukee and Cleveland. Save-A-Lot announced plans to sell off its corporate-owned retail stores in 2020.
Yellow Banana’s Chicago projects had an estimated price tag of $26 million; the company planned to close the gap with private funds. The city’s contribution will come from tax-increment financing, or TIF, funds, in which property taxes are funneled back into redevelopment to help revitalize blighted property.
At a community meeting this summer, before the city grant was announced, Nance said Save-A-Lot had “tarnished” its reputation in Chicago, pointing to the stores’ physical conditions and produce offerings as being not up to snuff.
Lightfoot was asked at a news conference Wednesday about talk of rebranding the stores, saying: “I’m aware of those suggestions about a different name, and I think that those are actively under consideration.”
Nance and Yellow Banana co-founder Ademola Adewale-Sadik previously told the Tribune the company would invest in the stores by installing new LED lighting, HVAC and refrigeration systems, as well as by experimenting with new products. Sixty percent of the Yellow Banana-owned stores’ products will be sourced from Save-A-Lot, but Nance said the company had switched its produce supplier to provide fresher fruits and vegetables and was open to stocking organic or locally sourced products as well.
This summer, Nance said Yellow Banana hoped to reopen the Auburn Gresham store by the end of the year.
Whole Foods’ Englewood store had opened with the assistance of $10.7 million in city funding six years ago. An announcement about the store’s replacement is still pending, though the sale agreement with the site’s developer requires a new grocery store to be up and running within 18 months of Whole Foods’ departure.
Aldi closed a store in Auburn Gresham in June, leading South Side aldermen to slam the company and call for a city hearing on food access and grocery store closures. Lightfoot criticized the company this summer, saying Aldi should be “ashamed.”
“Aldi’s, hear me loud and clear,” Lightfoot said. “Come to the table and talk and work with us, or there are going to be major challenges for you in the city of Chicago.”