OLD TOWN — The owner of Plum Market, an independent grocery store along Wells Street in Old Town, claims the business is being pushed out of the neighborhood after a “back-door agreement” was made between its landlord and incoming grocery store Dom’s Kitchen & Market.
News that Dom’s Kitchen & Market, a small-footprint grocery store from Bob Mariano that opened its first store last year in Lincoln Park, was coming to Old Town broke last Thursday. But it wasn’t immediately clear that the grocery store was moving into the storefront occupied by Plum Market, 1233 N. Wells St., because Dom’s listed the new store’s address as 1225 N. Wells St. — the address of the larger building the storefront occupies.
Matt Jonna, CEO of Plum Market, announced in a letter to the store’s customers Friday that Plum Market would be closing June 26 after its lease was “terminated” for a new agreement with Dom’s.
“I want to be clear that this was not in our plan and that we were handed this information entirely by surprise,” Jonna wrote. “In fact, we have invested in excess of $1,000,000 into improvements and renovations to the space since its opening, and had no intention of closing our doors to this wonderful community.”
Jonna declined to comment for this story, but claimed in his letter that Plum Market’s landlord made a “quiet back-door agreement” with Dom’s Kitchen and Market without Plum Market ever having a chance to negotiate to keep the store open.
“It is worth noting that when we caught wind of these negotiations, purely by luck, we specifically asked our landlord to discuss keeping our lease and we did not receive a response to our request,” Jonna wrote.
Plum Market has been a part of the Old Town community for nearly nine years since the store opened in June 2013, and has become known for supporting local vendors and artisans.
Jonna also criticized Mariano’s decision to pursue Plum Market’s location as “unconscionable, dishonorable and disgusting.”
“Dom’s actions certainly cast a dark shadow on independent grocers,” Jonna said. “In fact, presidents and CEOs of other local independent groceries have reached out to me personally to express their shock and dismay that Bob Mariano, a grocer that I respected until recently, and the owners of Dom’s, would hit with such a low blow.”
Leaders from Dom’s Kitchen & Market said they were approached about the availability of the Old Town storefront and reached an agreement with the landlord. Dom’s owners were “surprised and disappointed to learn of this ill-founded interpretation” of the grocery store’s move into Old Town, they said in a statement.
“As an independent grocer ourselves, we know all too well the challenges of operating in this competitive environment,” Dom’s leaders said. “Our intentions have always been to grow into neighborhoods where we can continue to expand the rich and meaningful food experience we provide.”
Dom’s representatives said it wouldn’t be appropriate for them to “speculate or otherwise comment on the relationship between the landlord and the current tenant.”
Plum Market has more than 120 team members who will lose their jobs when the store closes, Jonna said.
Representatives from Heitman LLC, Plum Market’s property manager, did not immediately return a request for comment. Neither did representatives from 1225 Old Town, which is listed as the building’s owner in the Cook County Recorder’s online database.
Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.
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