AUSTIN — The city is backing the development of a Black-owned supermarket along Austin’s Soul City Corridor with a $2.5 million grant, funded under the Chicago Recovery Plan.
Forty Acres Fresh Market has worked toward opening a brick-and-mortar location for years, running pop-ups, farmers markets and a grocery delivery service in the meantime. The grocery store partnered with Westside Health Authority to secure a storefront at 5713 W. Chicago Ave. in late 2020. It will be rehabbed with assistance from the grant.
Owner Elizabeth Abunaw also launched a weekly indoor pop-up series at the building, the Soul City Community Market. It will run 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays and 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sundays until construction on the store begins later this year.
The indoor community market will give residents a place to buy produce, prepared foods and other goods from vendors. The market will include vendors like Star Farms, Q’s Pound Cakes, Atmos Coffee, Nuts to Go and Thank God 4 Raw & Vegan Treats.
The markets aim to jump start Chicago Avenue as a shopping destination, Abunaw said. Like the previous pop-ups Forty Acres has run or participated in, the community market will help ensure the longevity of the grocery store by “building this habit of shopping in the community … and buying fresh and healthy food,” Abunaw said.
“People are very used to shopping outside of Austin for food. They don’t think of Austin as a place with food options. We want to give people a place to go to reverse that trend,” Abunaw said.
The need for grocery options in Austin has grown in recent years. A mile north of the Forty Acres site, one of Austin’s only grocery stores, Save A Lot, shut down in December 2020 with little notice to neighbors.
The majority of shoppers for most grocery stores live within a half-mile of the location, Abunaw said. But in the area surrounding the forthcoming Forty Acres location, there are no supermarkets that close. The nearest full-service grocery is the Pete’s Fresh Market at 259 W. Lake St., about a mile away.
The nearly 12,000-square-foot building being developed into the Forty Acres store was previously a Salvation Army. Once construction is complete, another business tenant will share the building with Forty Acres.
The $2.5 million Chicago Recovery Plan grant will fund part of the construction costs, including plumbing, mechanical and electrical work for things like refrigerators and freezers. The funds were allocated through the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund, a program aimed at spurring economic growth in under-invested Black and Latino neighborhoods.
The store will fill the gap in mid-sized grocery stores, allowing residents to stock up on daily food items between major shopping trips. The store will be full-service, with a range of fresh fruits, veggies, prepared foods, frozen items, a refrigerated section and dry goods.
Bringing a grocery store to the area will improve more than just food access, Abunaw said: A grocery store is part of a neighborhood’s social infrastructure that builds cohesion in a community and benefits all businesses along the corridor. The increased foot traffic and local dollars being circulated within the Austin community can “slowly start to shift the perception that there’s nothing on Chicago” Avenue, she said.
“We want people to start associating good shopping experiences with Austin,” Abunaw said. “It’s not just buying food. It’s the people, it’s the customer service. It’s the frozen food aisle and discovering new things you didn’t even know you needed.”
Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast” here: