Chicago exploring creation of city-owned grocery store for food deserts

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Thursday, September 14, 2023
Chicago exploring creation of city-owned grocery store for food deserts
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The non-profit Economic Security Project and the city of Chicago have teamed up to explore opening a municipally owned grocery store.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The issue of food scarcity and food deserts have led to protests and shined a spotlight on deep-rooted inequities in Chicago.

"It is an abomination to think that 10 miles from Englewood people are living twenty years longer because they have access to things they need," said Ameya Pawar, Economic Security Project.

The non-profit Economic Security Project and the city are partnering to explore the creation of a municipally owned grocery store.

"Really it's filling the gaps for the market and making sure that people have access to all the goods and resources that they need to survive and thrive," Pawar said.

In the past five years on the South Side, store closings have included a Whole Foods, two Targets and three Walmarts. Pawar said the model of offering millions in city subsidies to large operators has failed, but while those businesses were beholden to bottom lines, a city-owned grocery could measure profit in a different way.

"A longer life span, better educational outcomes, and lower rates of disease which over time will save taxpayers money," Pawar said.

Pawar said city-owned groceries have been successful in smaller communities like Baldwin, Fla., but some are skeptical.

"The reason we are considered a food apartheid or in this food apartheid is because of disinvestment, and the disinvestment has come locally from government," said Aisha Butler, Resident Association of Greater Englewood.

Resident Association of Greater Englewood, or RAGE, has led food desert protests in the past.

Butler said rather than a city-owned grocery, the city should empower local entrepreneurs.

"Doing right by Englewood would put ownership in the hands of people who live in 60621 and 60636," she said.

Pawar said it could take months to develop a blueprint for a city-owned grocery, which would at least be partially-funded by federal, state, and private dollars.