AUBURN GRESHAM — A Black-owned business hopes to take over Auburn Gresham’s closed Save A Lot — and it’s promising the store will see major improvements.
The business, Yellow Banana, buys stores from Save A Lot and runs them under the Save A Lot name. But if it’s able to take over the Auburn Gresham store as planned, it’ll offer higher-quality products and redesign the interior so it’s not “beat to all hell,” co-owner Michael Nance told neighbors during a community meeting Thursday.
“What we inherited does not meet our operational or moral standards,” Nance said. “We know what we stepped into. We know how critical access to high-quality food at affordable prices is in this community, and we’re committed to delivering that.”
The discount supermarket chain Save-A-Lot closed its 7908 S. Halsted St. location in February 2020. The store has been vacant since, despite city officials’ efforts to fill it. Ald. David Moore (17th) said in February 2020 that regional managers closed the store due to inventory shrinkage and unmet sales quotas.
Yellow Banana hasn’t closed the deal yet, but Moore said Thursday the city is very interested in filling the hole in part because of other investments in the area.
“We’re working with the mayor to hopefully close the deal and find some money to assist Yellow Banana,” Moore told neighbors at the meeting. “I think we’re gonna get there.”
Nance, who said he grew up in a food desert in Cleveland, acknowledged neighbors’ distrust of Save A Lot and other big-box grocery stores. He said Save-A-Lot and Aldi “dropped the ball” by leaving with “virtually no heads-up to the community.”
The neighborhood Aldi at 7627 S. Ashland Ave. abruptly closed June 12, leaving residents with even fewer options for fresh, affordable food. A Walmart Neighborhood Market and Food 4 Less are the closest grocery stores for neighbors.
Yellow Banana operates 38 other Save A Lot stores across the country, according to the company’s website. Nance said its goal is to “bring them under more localized leadership” and to “invest in these stores in ways they had not been invested in for many years.”
“We want to provide the communities we value, ones like the places we grew up in, with quality food at affordable prices in an environment that’s ennobling and a structure that’s aesthetically pleasing and clean,” Nance said.
Yellow Banana plans to reopen the store with the same name, but the interior will be renovated and only 60 percent of its products will come from Save A Lot distributors, Nance said.
Yellow Banana found produce from Save A Lot was “not up to snuff,” so the company plans to work with other distributors who offer name-brand products and organic fruits and vegetables, Nance said. The store most likely won’t sell hard liquor, unless there is a strong demand from the community, he said.
It’s expected the store will create 20-25 jobs that pay more than minimum wage with opportunities for advancement, Nance said. Store management will get full benefits and uncapped bonuses based on sales, he said.
In response to a community member’s question, Nance said Yellow Banana plans to work with minority-owned companies while refurbishing the store. The resident said he wouldn’t be satisfied until the promise was put in writing.
As the store grows, the owners hope to expand in-house production of grocery staples to lower costs and provide a transportation service for residents in landlocked areas who struggle to carry their groceries home, Nance said.
Nance encouraged the community to share feedback on the future store, including recommendations for locally made nonessential products residents want to see on the shelves.
Moore emphasized the details of the sale haven’t been finalized, but Nance said Yellow Banana has “an ambitious timeline” and hopes to open the store before the end of the year.
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