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Planning and Development Commissioner urged to lure new grocers to Dominick's locations

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Planning and Development commissioner was urged Monday to play a more active role in luring new grocers to shuttered Dominick’s stores in inner-city neighborhoods.

“If the city says, ‘We’re going to sit on our hands and we’re not going to do anything and we’re going to wait to see who comes in, that’s not really helpful,” said South Side Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th). “I hope you all will at least assist some of us in trying to get some quality business. Suppose a grocery store decides not to come into a Dominick’s and say another Dollar Store comes in. That’s after-the-fact. We need a department that advocates for us and does get involved and tries to get those businesses to come into the community.”

Chicago has 15 Dominick’s stores that will be closed by Dec. 31 if new bidders don’t purchase the stores that Safeway owns and assume control of leases at stores the parent company does not own.

Testifying Monday at City Council budget hearings, Planning and Development Commissioner Andy Mooney said the Emanuel administration has adopted a wait-and-see approach to a bidding process that’s expected to wrap up in two or three weeks.

“We have tried not to intervene on the market discussions with them because, how should I put this, it could easily skew the kind of deals that they’re going to enter into with new operators,” Mooney said.

Safeway announced on Oct. 10 its plan to pull out of the Chicago market. But, Mooney argued that the “writing was on the wall” for the last few years.

“Anyone who was paying attention to this would know that they had already started pulling out of the city really two-to-three years ago and the new owner who came in a couple of years ago came in, from my perspective, really on a real estate play [more] than trying to do a grocery store play,” he said. “The good news…is that, during that same period of time, other operators were coming into Chicago, particularly Mariano’s, Wal-Mart and one or two others, including some independents that are growing in the city. Over the last couple of years, we’ve had 22 grocery stores open up and two more are being planned. So while on the face of it the Dominick’s announcement seems very hard, from a market perspective, we have other operators that are very active and aggressive in the market and will likely make bids for Dominick’s locations.”

The laissez-faire attitude did not sit well with Hairston, particularly as it impacts, what she called the “whole new world south of 57th Street” where Chicago’s greatest “challenges” lie.

“The department decided not to get involved. I don’t really understand that. How can a Department of Planning and Development not get involved in planning and developing communities,” Hairston said. “Some of my colleagues that already know Mariano’s is purchasing their properties, that’s good. But, the rest of us that are in communities where we don’t know what’s going to happen. I was able to pick up the phone and find out who the brokers were. I was able to reach out to them directly. Isn’t that something you could assist us in doing?”

Mooney said he stands ready to work with aldermen to find other uses for Dominick’s stores that do not draw interest from other grocers. And once new operators are identified, the city plans to assist in training employees and finding other jobs for displaced workers.