South Shore residents see grocer closing as opportunity

January 2, 2014

Flickr/reallyboring
Dominick's closing at 71st and Jeffrey in Chicago.

Residents in Chicago’s South Shore know how outsiders may perceive their neighborhood: crime-ridden with an abundance of subsidized rental housing.

But there’s another picture residents want to flaunt: vistas of Lake Michigan, splendid architecture and the South Shore Cultural Center gem.

The rebranding - led by the newly revamped Planning Coalition - isn’t a matter of vain boosterism. South Shore denizens want better retail options. Some have what’s dubbed “Hyde Park envy” because they have to shop in the neighborhood just to the north. The recent closure of the South Shore Dominick’s on 71st and Jeffrey has provided an opening for changes, residents say.

“You have people that look at Dominick’s leaving as a new beginning. That’s how I see it - to bring something different over here, to be an anchor for better retailers than we have now,” said resident and organizer Val Free.

The grassroots Planning Coalition has a grocery store task force. The group has hosted two community meetings and is distributing a survey asking residents what kind of store they want. In an area littered with corner, discount and dollar stores, shoppers prefer an upscale grocer that will uplift the image of South Shore such as a Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s or Mariano’s.

Resident Ava St. Claire said there’s a correlation between image and beautification when it comes to retail.

“Corner dudes don’t hang out in front of Starbucks but they just chill in front of places that look comfortable for them to just chill at,” St. Claire said. A more attractive store would deter bootleggers from selling DVDs or loose cigarettes out front, she said.

Ald. Leslie Hairston’s (5th) ward include 71st and Jeffrey. Hairston sits on Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s citywide task force charged with marketing and transitioning closed Dominick’s stores in the city. She said she’s committed to making sure a vibrant store replaces Dominick’s. But Safeway - Dominick’s parent company - has the lease until May 2015 and is negotiating with whatever new tenant comes in.

“I can’t stop them from selling to the highest bidder. That’s for sure. But I have expressed my desires. I have talked to them,” Hairston said. “I am confident that we will have a grocer and have something that the community will be happy with.”

One of the challenges is attracting quality retail to black South Side neighborhoods. But every year, South Siders spend billions outside of their neighborhoods.

“It’s akin to redlining to me. With the African-American neighborhoods because they are spending money on the same things that other ethnicities spend  money on yet it is the corporations that are resistant,” Hairston said. The alderman didn’t reveal which stores she’s in contact with.

Researcher and food access expert Mari Gallagher said data and perceptions are barriers to development on the South Side.

“The numbers can be misleading. There’s more density than people might realize and a good number of middle income families,” Gallagher said. She said the 71st Street Dominick’s closure could create a problem for South Shore, which is already attracting fringe retail.

South Shore is truly a mixed-income neighborhood. There are mansions and multi-unit apartment complexes. The community has a median income of $28,000 but there are thousands of households that make more than $50,000 and thousands more that earn more than $75,000.

Gallagher said the mayor’s task force will really have to work the market angle.

“What I hope doesn’t happen is that a less attractive retail option doesn’t come in because they are ready to occupy now. Time is of the essence,” Gallagher said.

is a WBEZ reporter. nmoore@wbez.org

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Members of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s grocery store task force, which is  to help market and transition closed Dominick’s stores in the city:

• Steven Koch, Deputy Mayor, city of Chicago.

• Andrew Mooney, Commissioner of the Department of Planning and Development, city of Chicago.

• Ald. Leslie Hairston, 5th Ward.

• Ald. Joe Moore, 49th Ward.

• Ald. Patrick O’Connor, 40th Ward.

• Rev. Dr. Janette C. Wilson is an attorney and community advocate focusing on education and neighborhood economic development. Rev. Wilson is Assistant Pastor of Metropolitan Apostolic Community Church and serves as the Executive Director of Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.

• Jorge Ramirez, President, Chicago Federation of Labor. Prior to becoming president of the CFL, Ramirez was Executive Director of UFCW 1546, which represents the workers at Dominick’s grocery stores in Chicago.

• Steve Powell, Secretary Treasurer, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 881.  Powell is also an International Vice President of the UFCW. UFCW represents thousands of grocery store employees across the Chicago area.

• Mike Mallon, Principal, dkmallon, a food industry consulting firm. Mallon is a former VP at both Jewel/Osco and Dominick’s.

• Joel Bookman, Principal, Bookman Associations, a community development consulting firm. Bookman is a former director at LISC/Chicago and Executive Director of North River Commission, with specific expertise in neighborhood retail development.

• Craig Chico, Executive Director of Back of the Yards Council. Among other endeavors, the Back of the Yards council works with merchants and industrial companies in the Stockyards area.

• Carlos Nelson, Executive Director of Auburn Gresham Community Development Corporation. Nelson has been very instrumental in the redevelopment of the commercial area along 79th Street, and has also been involved in the development of the new Wal-Mart that will begin construction in the neighborhood in the spring.

• Frank Petruziello, Principal, the Skilken Company. Petruziello is the major force behind the development of the Shops & Lofts project at 47th and Cottage Grove, a mixed-use development that includes a neighborhood Wal-Mart store.

• Angel Gutierrez, Vice President of Community Development and Outreach Services, Catholic Charities Chicago. Catholic Charities Chicago currently operates 16 WIC Food and Nutrition Centers in the city and is introducing other innovative ways to bring fresh produce products to underserved areas.