Save A Lot plan is a hopeful sign for food deserts

A day after a Whole Foods closed in Englewood, it was heartening that a City Council committee green-lit a $13.5 million project to revive six Save A Lot grocery stores.

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Outside the long-vacant Save A Lot store in Auburn Gresham, 7908 S. Halsted.

Yellow Banana, an Ohio-based company, wants to reopen the closed Gresham Save A Lot store and five others on the South and West sides.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

What a treat it must have been for customers in Englewood to buy steeply discounted items at a supermarket chain some jokingly refer to as “Whole Paycheck.”

Sadly, the big weekend sale at the Englewood Whole Foods came at a price that had been in the works for months. After six years, the store at 832 W. 63rd St. permanently shut its doors on Sunday.

The retailer, citing a review of “performance and growth potential,” announced the news of the closure in the spring. It was among six stores nationwide to close, including one inside DePaul University’s Welcome Center in Lincoln Park, Whole Foods said at the time.

Editorial

Editorial

The sobering reality is that the loss of a Whole Foods, or any full-service grocery store, hurts residents in Englewood far more than those who live in Lincoln Park. 

Grocery store closures have virtually no impact on the North Side, where there is an abundance of similar businesses. But in low-income South Side neighborhoods, where supermarkets are scarce, even one store closure imperiled food security, a 2018 University of Chicago study found. 

Given that hard truth, it was good news to learn that City Council’s Finance Committee this week green-lit a $13.5 million project to revive six shuttered or decrepit Save A Lot grocery stores on the South and West sides.

The half-dozen stores have to remain open for at least 10 years under the deal the city forged with Yellow Banana, a Black-owned company.

If one of the stores ends up closing or is sold, the developer “must return all previously dispersed funds to the city for all six stores,” Deputy Planning and Development Commissioner Tim Jeffries said.

Those conditions should ensure residents have a stable source of groceries for the near future.

Michael Nance, a partner in the holding company that owns Yellow Banana, said he and his associates are well aware that Save A Lot’s reputation took a hit when it closed stores.

Nance said the group has thought about rebranding the stores, and they want to hear what community members have to say — both of which strike us as smart moves.

Grand openings of grocery stores in neighborhoods considered food deserts are always celebratory and hopeful.

But the real challenge is sustaining these businesses long-term, and making fresh, healthy food available everywhere, so that food deserts become a thing of the past.

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