ENGLEWOOD — A Black-owned retail grocery platform has signed a lease to take over the closed Whole Foods building in Englewood, but there’s still no final word on which grocery store will set up shop there.
Yellow Banana, a business that owns and operates dozen of stores under the Save A Lot name, signed a lease “within the last couple of weeks” for the building at 832 W. 63rd St., co-owner Michael Nance said. Yellow Banana’s team will be able to access the building Jan. 1, Nance said.
Yellow Banana will partner with an undisclosed grocery wholesaler that will be responsible for “putting the food on the shelves,” Nance said. South Side businesses will run the hot food bar, bakery and coffee and juice bar, Nance said.
Nance would not say who the wholesaler for the Englewood store would be.
“We’re not really in the prepared food business, but we can outsource that to find a business that does cook and prepare food,” Nance said. “If there’s a favorite restauranteur on the South Side that people in the Englewood community would want to see selling hot food out of this site, we want to engage with those people and find an entrepreneur that the people want. The same for the bakery.”
DL3 Realty, the landlord of the Whole Foods building, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Ald. Stephanie Coleman (16th), whose ward includes Englewood’s Whole Foods, was not immediately available for comment.
The City Council allocated about $13.5 million in tax-increment financing to Yellow Banana in November, boosting the company’s efforts to lease and rehabilitate six Save A Lot stores across the city, including an Auburn Gresham location that closed in 2020 and a West Garfield Park location that temporarily closed in February because of a rat infestation.
The funding for the individual store rehabilitations will range from $1.75 million for the West Lawn location to more than $2.6 million for the Auburn Gresham location, city officials said at the time.
All six stores must remain open for “no less than 10 years,” Tim Jeffries, deputy planning and development commissioner, told the Sun-Times. If a store is closed or sold during that time, “the developer must return all previously dispersed funds to the city for all six stores,” Jeffries said.
Yellow Banana has 38 stores under the Save A Lot name in Cleveland, Milwaukee, Jacksonville and Dallas, as well as the stores in progress in Chicago.
Whole Foods Market leaders announced in September the Englewood location would close in November. Leon Walker, managing partner of DL3 Realty, said at the time developers had “three good options” to replace the market and would have something to report “in the next 30 days or so.” The deadline came and went.
Two weeks before the Whole Foods Market permanently closed, neighbors and alderpeople gathered at Kennedy King College to seek answers and demand a grocer with healthy, affordable options move into the space.
Developers said Whole Foods was “leading the discussion” with potential grocers because the company is a “tenant with the state” for the next eight to nine years, which allows the company final say on who subleases the space.
Commissioner Maurice Cox said at the town hall a brand like Yellow Banana was the type of local model neighbors could trust. Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th), whose ward includes Englewood, said the Ohio-based company isn’t local and is another example of how the city continues to invest nationally rather than locally.
“We have to start thinking about growing our own,” Taylor said at the town hall.
Nonprofit organization Teamwork Englewood surveyed 300 neighbors for their thoughts on how Whole Foods Market failed the community and what store should come next.
Affordability and the store’s grocery selection were two leading problems, said Brianna Hobbs, the health and wellness program coordinator at Teamwork Englewood. Neighbors asked for more affordable supermarkets, like Walmart or Mariano’s, to replace the vacant store.
Yellow Banana will “engage with the community” to ensure neighbors’ wants are satisfied, Nance said.
“We want to work with [neighbors] to figure out what the right solution is to make sure that they’re part of the conversation and that their voices are heard, particularly as it relates to the kinds of entrepreneurs that we partner with when it comes to the hot food,” Nance said.
It’s “unfortunate” that the community doesn’t have a grocer in that space, but Yellow Banana will “help find a solution,” Nance said.
“We don’t think that where you live should dictate your healthy food options,” Nance said. “We think that all folks, no matter where they’re from, what they look like, or their socioeconomic status is, should have access to healthy, affordable food.”
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