Black-owned company gets OK for $13.5M city subsidy to buy, revamp 6 South, West side grocery stores

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, said the Save A Lot name that will be revived by stores operated by Yellow Banana has been seriously damaged by store closings.

SHARE Black-owned company gets OK for $13.5M city subsidy to buy, revamp 6 South, West side grocery stores
Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus.

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, said he wants the Save A Lot store in West Garfield Park to have another name or to be rebranded.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file photo

The City Council’s Finance Committee agreed Monday to give a Black-owned company $13.5 million in city subsidies to purchase and revitalize six shuttered or run-down Save A Lot grocery stores, but only after warning Yellow Banana about the need for some serious “rebranding.”

West Side Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, said the Save A Lot name that will be revived by stores operated by Yellow Banana has been seriously damaged by grocery store closings on the South and West sides.

Ervin said he understands that there “may need to be some connection with Save A Lot,” but he’d like to see the store at 420 S. Pulaski renamed to get the bad taste out of the mouths of local residents who felt betrayed by the company.

“The city is putting a significant investment out here, but at the same time, we want to make sure that people will actually utilize this. And that may be something that may hold people up from doing it. There will be some challenges just based on the name and based on what happened in the community in the past,” Ervin said.

“Sign at least the 420 S. Pulaski store up for a name change or a rebranding of some sort, just to bring a fresher perspective for the community and give them a sense of a restart,” Ervin said.

Michael Nance, a partner in the holding company that owns Yellow Banana, said he and his partners have given “tremendous thought” to the rebranding question.

“We fully appreciate the reputational damage that Save A Lot has done in the city of Chicago by shutting down stores, such as the store that we seek to reopen at 79th and Halsted. ... We understand that it’s unacceptable to unilaterally make these kinds of decisions without including the community’s voices,” Nance told the finance committee.

“Where there is a demand that these stores be branded something other than Save A Lot, we think we can get it done,” he said.

Nance said he and his partners met last week with Save A Lot executives to discuss the “reputational damage that’s been done,” and they “understand that we may have to change the brand image and the branding on these buildings to get community buy-in.”

“We do have active license agreements with Save A Lot that require us to purchase somewhere around 60 percent of our wholesale goods from them. So that will remain in place. But the branding is something that we will have some flexibility on,” he said.

“One of the things that we’re considering in terms of branding is actually doing a mural on the side of that building that embraces the culture of that community. So we would pay out of our dollars to hire a local artist to help brand that store in a way that community respects and feels dignifies their voices,” he said.

Yellow Banana, a grocery platform, wants to reopen the closed Save-A-Lot store at 7908 S. Halsted St. in Gresham.

The closed Save-A-Lot store at 7908 S. Halsted St. in Gresham.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times file

The redevelopment agreement advanced Monday authorizes $13.5 million in tax increment financing and other city subsidies to help Yellow Banana buy and transform six shuttered Save A Lot stores at 7908 S. Halsted St. in Auburn Gresham; 420 S. Pulaski Road in West Garfield Park; 10700 S. Halsted St. in Morgan Park; 2858 E. 83rd St. in South Chicago; 7240 S. Stony Island Ave. in South Shore; and 4439 W. 63rd St. in West Lawn.

Deputy Planning and Development Commissioner Tim Jeffries said the six stores are structurally sound but have “significant deferred maintenance issues that, at best, make the stores feel run-down, and at worst, created health and safety issues.”

To justify the city subsidy, all six stores must remain open for “no less than 10 years,” he said.

“If a single store closes or is sold during that time, then the developer must return all previously dispersed funds to the city for all six stores,” Jeffries said.

The reputational damage driving the need for rebranding wasn’t the only issue raised during Monday’s protracted finance committee debate.

The Lightfoot administration’s failure to notify local alderpersons that their TIF money was being used to subsidize Yellow Banana was also called out.

“I’m thoroughly frustrated with the lack of communication that your department has had with the aldermen — especially when you’re talking about taking millions of dollars out of my TIF,” said retiring 5th Ward Ald. Leslie Hairston.

“These are things that impact our communities every single day and the planning that we have for our communities in the future, because when you take $2 million out, there’s something else that doesn’t get $2 million,” she said.

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Albert Ruddy produced more than 30 movies, from the “Godfather” and “Million Dollar Baby” to “Cannonball Run II” and “Megaforce,” nominees for Golden Raspberry awards for worst movie of the year.