Chicagoans in food deserts can’t ‘Save A Lot’ when there’s no store in sight

A trip to the supermarket shouldn’t involve an arduous CTA commute and a juggling act with a carton of milk, produce, and other essentials. But that is a likely reality for Chicagoans who don’t have a grocery store within walking distance or who don’t have a car to drive even a few miles.

When a new grocery store does open, with great fanfare, people in these underserved neighborhoods breathe a sigh of relief — until the rug is pulled out from under them when a store shuts down.

It should come as no surprise that low food access in the city increased by 63% in the last decade when grocery stores in some West and South side communities came and went as fast as a conveyor belt at a 10 items-or-less checkout counter. A Walmart Supercenter in Chatham, a Whole Foods in Englewood and an Aldi in Gresham were all shuttered in the last few years, wiping away the mirage of easy access to fresh foods in these predominantly Black communities.

At least one vow to obliterate these food deserts appears to be another optical illusion. The beleaguered Ohio-based retail grocer Yellow Banana has slipped very far behind in its plans to renovate and reopen six Save A Lot locations using $13.5 million in city subsidies, as the Sun-Times’ Mariah Rush reports.

Even after Yellow Banana Chief Executive Joe Canfield told Planning and Development Commissioner Ciere Boatright that the company would get its act together in late January, it didn’t.

All of the Save A Lot stores are closed for construction and none have been renovated.

Now there’s only 10 months left of the two-year contract with the city to get the job done. The clock is ticking.

A Planning and Development spokesperson told us “issues” involving Yellow Banana are a “daily frustration for countless families” but adds that the company is compliant with the terms of its redevelopment agreement and the pending tax-increment financing payments that are contingent upon store completion.

Still, the city’s contribution to the $26 million-plus project isn’t chump change, and the money must translate to meaningful amenities in neighborhoods that continue to struggle to have easy access to fresh foods.

A 2023 study by American Cancer Society researchers, like other previous research, found that people who live in low-income areas with low accessibility to healthy food have a shorter life expectancy than their counterparts.

If Yellow Banana fails to do better and fully live up to its pledge, the city should — no pun intended — consider splitting.

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