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Austin, Garfield Park, North Lawndale

Fake Corner Store Is Back In North Lawndale For ‘The Chi’ Filming

The show plans to donate food from its controversial corner store set this year.

A fake corner store in North Lawndale is part of filming for "The Chi." [Provided by Frank Bergh]
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CHICAGO — A TV set that caused controversy by throwing out food and home goods while filming on a resource-starved block of North Lawndale has returned.

This time, though, the showrunners of “The Chi” plan to donate items from their corner store set at 19th Street and Kedzie Avenue. The show was created by South Side native Lena Waithe. 

The set appears to have been put up in late June and mimics a corner store, complete with painted-on ads for pop, milk and eggs; a sign pointing out a $1 ATM fee and another sign showing the shop accepts Link cards. When the fake store popped up last summer, its shelves lined with snacks and household goods, residents excitedly mistook it for a new business.

Neighbors were frustrated when the store turned out to be a TV set for Showtime show “The Chi.”

Their frustration only grew when the show stopped filming and boxes of unopened, unexpired food and household supplies from the set were tossed into a dumpster. Residents, some of whom called the area a “food desert” and said they can’t easily access groceries and home goods, waded into the trash to pick out food, diapers and cleaning supplies for themselves and their neighbors.

Showtime later said the food was expired or tainted, but residents said it wasn’t expired and was safely sealed.

At the time, residents said it “hurt” to see how disposable the items seemed to the show’s staff — particularly because the area of North Lawndale where the corner store sits faces a shortage of investment and home good stores.

“I just don’t understand how they can film about the South Side struggle and then not help the struggle,” said one resident who went through the dumpster to grab items for herself and her neighbors. “I just don’t understand what happened, what went through [the show organizers’] heads when they threw that all away. How did no one on the team be like, ‘Hey, someone can eat that’?

This season, the set wasn’t so much of a surprise, said Frank Bergh, who lives down the block from the set and was one of the residents who mistook it for a real corner store when it went up in 2017. 

“I think the residents, it’s less of a surprise this year than it was last year,” Bergh said. “They’ve been through it before. They know what it means when that building turns yellow.

Though there’s no “open conflict” between neighbors and the show, Bergh said the set still serves as a “kind of caricature in a neighborhood without a lot of healthy food options.”

The set “kind of dramatizes the contrast between what a food desert means and how it’s portrayed certainly in the media,” Bergh said.

The set will be up until the end of filming in November. After that, any unexpired food from the corner store set will be donated to a shelter or church, according to a 20th Century Fox spokeswoman.

20th Century Fox has “many plans for contributions to the communities we shoot in” this season, the company’s spokeswoman said. Besides donating items from the corner store set, “The Chi” plans to bring in food and ice cream trucks, create community gardens and donate to churches and boys and girls clubs, the spokeswoman said.

Another change: The show has added a portable toilet to the corner and a private security guard. Bergh said the guard, who changes day to day, mostly stays in a car.

The guard was added because the studio thinks “safety [is] paramount to the community as well as the shooting crew,” the 20th Century Fox spokeswoman said.

• Fake ‘Corner Store’ Reminds North Lawndale Of What It Doesn’t Have — Food
• TV Show Throws Out Dumpster Full Of Food — While Filming In A Food Desert
• ‘The Chi’ Says Dumpster Food Was Expired — But Residents Say Otherwise