Just down the road from a wastewater treatment facility, next to an abandoned building with overgrown greenery pushing out of its walls, is the boarded-up Rosebud Farm Stand, the one time sole grocery store in this Far South Side neighborhood known as the “toxic doughnut.”
Today, the next big-chain grocery store is more than 3 miles away, outside the city limits. The CTA Red Line stops at 95th Street, miles short of the city’s southern border, and Altgeld Gardens residents — who live among industrial sites, the Bishop Ford Freeway, rail lines and truck-laden arterial roads — sometimes need multiple buses to get anywhere.
But when the word spread that a new grocery store, Save A Lot, is set to open a new location on the same block as the old Rosebud Farm Stand, the news was received less than enthusiastically. Yes, community members are eager to shop for fresh food in their own neighborhood, they said, but at what cost?
Just as their counterparts in Englewood, where a former Whole Foods is being replaced by a Save A Lot, residents are concerned what a Save A Lot means for their community. They say they deserve better than a grocery brand with a reputation for poor quality food.
[ Former Englewood Whole Foods will become Save-A-Lot, angering some community leaders. ‘You never hear about a Save-A-Lot in Lincoln Park.’ ]
“This was not a choice made by the community, it was made for the community,” said consultant for People for Community Recovery, Freddie Batchelor. She added residents would rather shop at a Pete’s Fresh Market or at Whole Foods. She also said Save A Lots have a reputation of only operating in divested communities and serving cheaper quality foods.
The new store will be operated by Yellow Banana, a grocery company owned by the Cleveland- based investment firm 127 Wall Holdings LLC. Yellow Banana operates 38 Save A Lot stores nationally, including a handful in the Chicago area.
Yellow Banana executives have previously acknowledged Save A Lot’s poor reputation in Chicago. At a community meeting last summer, Yellow Banana co-owner Michael Nance said the company had “tarnished” its name in the city.
But Nance told the Tribune last week, the type of investment Yellow Banana is making is “unprecedented” for the Far South Side. “We certainly see it as a very strong move and commitment to the community, that today doesn’t have access to fresh grocery products.”
Nance also said Yellow Banana is “always open to additional training, not only for our employees, but facilitating educational training. For the community, whether that’s financial or otherwise.”
Last summer, Yellow Banana was awarded $13.5 million in city tax increment money to reopen an Auburn Gresham Save A Lot shuttered in 2020 and to renovate five other Save A Lots it operates on the South and West sides. The City Council cleared the funding in November and Nance said Yellow Banana will secure the funding in the coming week. Renovations are expected to begin soon after.
The city awarded the company another $4.87 million this month in community grants to construct and open their first Save A Lot in Altgeld Gardens.
“We don’t think that where someone grows up or where they live or what they look like, (should) dictate their access to healthy, affordable foods,” Nance said. “So it’s our mission to provide that to our customers, no matter where they’re located. We’re excited to embark on this project.”
Altgeld Gardens’ history of little to no fresh food options is not new, with options for public transportation being limited. Industrial sites that pepper the community, along with Lake Calumet, all create challenges for those biking, walking or using public transit. The neighborhood earned the nickname “toxic doughnut” because of its proximity to pollutants: A large landfill bounds Altgeld Gardens on one side, a sprawling sewage treatment plant on another.
Nearby, on the Southeast Side, are more landfills, a host of industrial plants and two sites on the federal Superfund list of abandoned, highly contaminated industrial tracts.
Ald. Anthony Beale, 9th, who represents the neighborhood, said when the Rosebud Farm Stand closed in 2018, “it left a huge void for people looking to get service.” He said he is “excited to fill the void” and that he is not aware of any residents’ concerns.
But Altgeld Gardens resident, Beria Hampton, said she wants to see the grocery store make investments in the community, and do more than just sell groceries. “They’re gonna make the money from the community, but what is the community getting back?” she said.
“For all our lives we always have been paying everybody and never owning or having any benefits to nothing, but what we can afford. We gotta do better than that,” she said.
David Doig, president of the Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives, helped Yellow Banana with the application process for the city grants that he said will help cover a portion of the estimated $7 million to $8 million cost to open the store. He said plans are to buy the land from the city on East 130th Street and South Eberhart Avenue and start construction in the summer or fall.
Construction is estimated to take about nine months to a year, with 40 to 60 construction jobs created, to build the 10,000 square foot Save A Lot, he said.
Batchelor said that she wants the see the grocery store make what she calls a “give-back” to the community it serves and not settle with gimmicks such as discounted food or mini stores within the market.
“A tangible give-back is a fiscal amount donated to other projects that the community themselves are working on,” she said.
Still, Batchelor sees opening up a grocery store and needing people to work there as a basic move. “You’re doing this because it’s a development deal,” she said. “You’re doing this to put money in your pocket.”
Batchelor has another worry. With the CTA actively searching for funding to extend the Red Line south to 130th Street in Altgeld Gardens — an estimated $3.6 billion project that would displace residents from dozens of homes — Batchelor is concerned that development without being inclusive of ownership could lead to eventual gentrification.
[ Neighbors hope the proposed Red Line extension brings development to Roseland. But it won’t come without challenges. ]
Developers will go into divested areas and say “we’re gonna do this for you,” Batchelor said. “No. You’re gonna do this for yourself. (The developers) are doing this for the Red Line.”
“When the store is finished, what is it gonna look like out here?” she added. “Are the same people gonna live out here? Or is gonna be a different class — a different culture?”
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