CHATHAM — Located on the corner of 87th & King Drive in the heart of one of Chatham’s business corridors stands what many in the neighborhood — including Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) — call a “problem business.”
King Food & Deli, a convenience store at 400 E. 87th St. that replaced a long-standing Church’s Chicken, was recently identified by Sawyer and community groups as a neighborhood concern.
Earlier this month, Sawyer and leadership from Chatham-Avalon Community Council, Greater Chatham Alliance and Chesterfield Community Council held a press conference to criticize King Food & Deli’s use of bulletproof glass, the sale of unhealthy snacks and cigars that could be used for blunts.
“The food was munchies, it was Black & Milds, Backwoods, Swisher Sweets, limited deli items, limited grocery items,” the alderman said. “It was mostly snacks. Is there a place for that? Maybe so. I think for the corner of 87th & King Drive, that’s kind of disappointing to me, personally.”
Following Sawyer’s public criticism of the business, a “constructive” meeting between Chatham residents and the store’s owner happened, he said.
“I think there were other retail opportunities that we could’ve placed in that location that would’ve been more reflective of the community and that would’ve gotten community support,” Sawyer said.
The owner of King Food & Deli did not return multiple calls for comment.
The city approved the convenience store’s business license on Jan. 26, according to a business license posted inside the store. King Food & Deli’s license to sell tobacco and flavored tobacco products expires Feb. 15, 2019.
Sawyer said he reached out to Church’s Chicken, which operated there previously, to find out more about the deli’s ownership, but didn’t get any answers. Church’s said it closed the location in March 2017.
“The closure was a result of the expiration of the restaurant’s lease,” the company said in a statement. “Chicago is a great market for Church’s and chicken passionates. We at Church’s will continue to look for new development opportunities and bring new franchisees in to serve this great community.”
Richard Wooten, president of the Greater Chatham Alliance, said King Food & Deli is a business that does not represent the community.
“Based on their product line and their appearance they do not care about the community,” Wooten said. “It is not a good healthy place for our kids to [visit].”
Wooten said he can’t speak for other Chicago neighborhoods where businesses similar to King Food & Deli exist, but he questions why the convenience store would remain open 24-hours and wondered what clientele the owners are attempting to attract during late-night hours.
“We can’t continue to allow businesses like this to …come into our community without having any type of engagement with the community and set their own pace on how they want to service our community,” Wooten said.
Wooten said the business seemed to pop up overnight.
“I just drove 87th & King Drive the night prior [to the opening], the store wasn’t there,” he said. “Then all of a sudden, boom, mysteriously, the store comes out of nowhere and when we asked the individuals when they put the flags and the store up they said it took them three hours to do this.”
Sawyer said convenience stores with bulletproof glass and limited grocery items are a problem citywide, and contribute to negative stereotypes about neighborhoods.
He suggested digital and manned security as options to improve the overall aesthetic of King’s Deli & Food instead of bulletproof glass.
“This had the look of a scared operator,” Sawyer said. “This is a store that’s not catering to the majority of the citizens of Chatham and the area. That’s the concern. Most of the people who live there wouldn’t shop there.”