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Lincoln Square, North Center, Irving Park

Corporate Grocer At Prime Lincoln Square Intersection Would Be ‘Atomic Bomb’ For Local Businesses, Critics Say. But Can It Be Stopped?

Developers proposed putting a grocery store in the Fifth Third Bank building at Lawrence and Western avenues, but no details have been shared because a zoning change isn't needed. Still, neighbors want their voices heard.

The Fifth Third Bank building at the corner of Lawrence and Western avenues in Chicago's Lincoln Square neighborhood on January 29, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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LINCOLN SQUARE — A proposed development at the heart of Lincoln Square is alarming neighbors and business owners who fear it could be a national grocery store chain, like an Amazon Fresh.

Developer Hubbard Street Group is pursuing a two-story commercial development at the former Fifth Third Bank building at 4800 N. Western Ave. The plans include a grocery store on the first floor, said Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th).

Vasquez said he’s been unable to find out which retailer is behind the grocery store or any details about what services it would offer. The project does not require a zoning change, which normally would prompt an aldermanic review, and the developer is claiming a non-disclosure agreement prevents it from sharing any information, Vasquez said.

Chris Dallas, who owns HarvesTime Foods just down the street, said he suspects Amazon is the company behind the potential grocery store at the busy corner of Lawrence and Western avenues. The issue came up in meetings former Ald. Patrick O’Connor hosted with the business community before he was ousted by Vasquez in the 2019 election.  

“I don’t know what O’Connor’s stance was on it. But we did have a meeting about the possibility, but we never got to actually ask the question about it,” Dallas said. “But this was how I first learned that the Amazon wanted to put a grocery store somewhere in the neighborhood.” 

Asked about that, Vasquez said his team didn’t receive much information during the transition and he does not know about any previous rumblings about an Amazon project. A spokesperson for Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.

Hubbard Street Group did not initially respond to requests for comment. After Block Club’s story published, John McLinden, managing partner at Hubbard Street Group, wrote in an emailed statement his firm was finishing preliminary planning for the project before they “engaged with stakeholders.”

He did not answer a question about which retailer was behind the anchor grocery store.

“This strategic site has been underutilized for decades and we look forward to working with the Aldermen, their staff, the Planning Department and community to create a vibrant new project,” McLinden said.

Neighbors and local business owners are pushing back, circulating a petition to demand a public hearing where the developer would have to disclose its plans. Vasquez and Ald. Matt Martin (47th) are co-hosting a meeting about this and other proposed projects in the two wards Thursday night, but representatives from Hubbard Street are not expected to attend.

“It’s in the best interest of all stakeholders, from the community and private industry, to come to the table. But that requires knowing who we are talking about,” Vasquez said. 

The virtual meeting begins 5:30 p.m. Thursday. You can register for it here.

Lincoln Square neighbors and business owners also have launched a website to draw attention to the issue. They say a major grocery store isn’t needed in that area and would badly hurt the community of locally-owned businesses.

It would draw customers away from grocers like HarvesTime, 2632 W. Lawrence Ave.; Tony’s Fresh Market, 5233 N. Lincoln Ave.; and Gene’s Sausage Shop and Delicatessen, 4750 N. Lincoln Ave., they said. The area also is served by a Mariano’s next to the Ravenswood Metra station, Jewel-Osco at 4250 N. Lincoln Ave. and ALDI at 2431 W. Montrose Ave.

“Putting an Amazon grocery store here, between their online presence and now their brick-and-mortar presence, is like throwing an atomic bomb in the small business community around here. It’s going to disappear,“ said Dallas, whose store has been in the neighborhood for 26 years.

Those behind the website argue an independent traffic study needs to be conducted at the Lawrence and Western intersection and that “there is no value that another grocery store could bring that would make the additional congestion, and its overflow into the neighborhoods, a worthwhile trade.” 

The petition demanding a public hearing was launched two weeks ago by neighbor Ellen Shepard. It had more than 1,400 signatures as of Wednesday. 

Shepard said she worries Hubbard Street Group’s project will significantly impact the character of the neighborhood, with traffic increasing and longstanding, locally-owned businesses being harmed.

She said she is encouraging people to attend the Thursday’s meeting but stressed this is not the same thing as the public hearing her petition is seeking. 

The project is large enough that its impact will have significant consequences for the surrounding neighborhood, Shepard said.

But because of how the developer is pursuing the project, it is circumventing the zoning process that would require it to be more transparent with the city and require neighborhood buy-in to move forward, she said. 

“This developer’s trying to get around the designation of an ‘official planned development’ by doing the work in two stages. So the meeting Ald. Vasquez is having Thursday is great, but it doesn’t have any power over the developer,” Shepard said.

The website created by neighbors also encourages people to attend Thursday’s meeting and to sign Shepard’s petition. 

“I’m grateful for the engagement and organization of our neighbors,” Vasquez said. “We want to ensure that community voices are heard, respected, and treated as partners in whatever happens going forward.”

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