Save A Lot officials face off with Englewood residents over plans for shuttered Whole Foods site
CHICAGO - Nearly 100 community members gathered Wednesday across the street from the site of a former Whole Foods in Englewood to meet face-to-face with the owners of the proposed low-cost supermarket that is slated to open in its place.
Save A Lot CEO Leon Bergmann and the co-founders of Yellow Banana — the company that subleases the site at 832 W 63rd St. — tried to convince neighborhood residents that, despite their concerns, Save A Lot is able to meet their grocery needs.
Residents and local leaders filled Kennedy-King College’s auditorium for a tense meeting following the postponement of the new Save A Lot’s opening in April. Save A Lot officials didn’t indicate when the store might open.
Whole Foods closed its Englewood store last November, and Save A Lot took over the lease in January. But community members have complained about Save A Lot’s store quality and reputation.
As a possible resolution for the months-long conflict, Ald. Stephanie Coleman (16th) — whose ward is where the site is located — and community members are asking the Ohio-based company to break its lease at the Englewood site and focus on their other stores around Chicago.
"Our store is not on the table," Asiaha Butler, founder of the Resident Association of Greater Englewood (R.A.G.E.), said at the forum Wednesday night. "The stores that are on the table are the eight stores they currently operate…We’re here to talk about those stores and how we can help them."
There were contentious moments as the forum got underway.
"Who are you?" an audience member called out as Yellow Banana co-founder Michael Nance took the stage.
Nance said he and some of his fellow co-owners knew what it was like to live in underserved areas and want to help communities in food deserts.
"We knew what it was like to grow up Black and Brown and poor," Nance said. "In my case (we) shopped at a local Save A Lot."
Community members handed out fliers during the forum with images of produce that appeared to be spoiled and from a Yellow Banana store. However, Nance and Yellow Banana CEO Joe Canfield said the produce and food quality are good.
But Canfield acknowledged that some food at the Yellow Banana stores had expired.
"I don’t run from stuff," Canfield said. "If you go in any store you’re going to find some expired foods. My biggest concern is selling something that would make kids sick… That’s how the industry works, I wish I had a better answer. We’re always trying to get better."
Nance said he held meetings with local leaders to ask for names of local contractors and vendors for the new store.
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But Derrick Warren, the executive director of the Greater Englewood Community Development Corporation, said he was not involved in any conversations about vendors or contractors.
"I tried to contact you and never got a response," Warren said.
As dozens of community members rose to share their opinions publicly, nearly every speaker promised they would not frequent an Englewood Save a Lot store.
"Englewood is standing for something," resident Joseph Williams said. "We aren’t falling for anything you guys want to give us … We’re not going to be your pilot program."
Butler directly asked Bergmann if Save A Lot would be willing to back out of the deal.
"Englewood does not want this at 63rd and Halsted," Butler said. "I’m just really pleading with you as a CEO."
But Bergmann replied, "I understand the strong opinions here this evening. We also know how many people regularly come by the store asking when it’s going to open. So… I don’t know the perfect answer to this entire equation. But what I do know is that this area deserves to have groceries."