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Englewood, Chatham, Auburn Gresham

Save A Lots Across The City Must Address Spoiled Food, Dirty Conditions Before Trying To Open In Englewood, Neighbors Say

Company officials acknowledged there were some problems at other stores, but they vowed to address them and be a good neighbor in Englewood.

A Save a Lot is moving into the former Whole Foods in Englewood near 63rd and Halsted streets, as seen on March 23, 2023.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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ENGLEWOOD — Englewood residents who have vowed to block the opening of a low-cost grocer in the neighborhood blasted company leaders Wednesday night for substandard conditions at other city stores.

Community organizers, local officials and residents gathered Wednesday at Kennedy King College, 740 W. 63rd St., to discuss the fate of Englewood’s long-opposed Save A Lot after a protest forced store leaders to delay its opening.

The store at 832 W. 63rd St. will replace a Whole Foods Market that closed last year. Yellow Banana, which owns and operates stores under the Save A Lot name, signed a lease for the vacant building in December

After months of neighbors repeatedly saying they didn’t want a Save A Lot store in their community, they were shocked in January when a banner for the grocer appeared on the vacant Englewood building. They’ve criticized officials for ignoring the community’s opposition and finalizing a deal behind closed doors. 

Community organizers and local officials demonstrated outside the store in April during a “preview” of the newly stocked store, demanding Yellow Banana and Save A Lot leaders meet with the community before opening. 

Amid the backlash, Yellow Banana CEO Joe Canfield postponed the store’s opening in April, vowing to be a “good corporate citizen” and meeting with local stakeholders before setting a new opening date for the store. 

Credit: Atavia Reed/Block Club Chicago
Asiaha Butler, founder of the Residents Association of Greater Englewood, speaks alongside Alds. Stephanie Coleman and Raymond Lopez as neighbors protest the planned opening of a Save A Lot grocery store.

But at Kennedy King College, Englewood residents were clear that opening the 63rd Street store was “not on the table” for discussion, said Asiaha Butler, founder of the Resident Association of Greater Englewood. 

Instead, neighbors wanted to discuss the conditions of the stores Yellow Banana received $13.5 million in tax-increment financing to lease and rehab, Butler said.

Members of the 16th Ward Grocery Store Steering Committee visited Yellow Banana-owned Save A Lot stores between April 21 and May 2, organizers said. They found spoiled food, unclean freezer compartments and groceries sold on their expiration dates, according to a flyer distributed by the committee. 

Until those conditions are addressed and rectified at stores with viable financing, and officials continue to meet with the community, neighbors said they would not support an Englewood Save A Lot. 

“We want to talk about the plans for the other stores, what’s happening, what’s the timeline,” Butler said. “We want to give the opportunity — since we have not had the opportunity — to really hear the renovation plan, the timeline, the community impact with the other stores that they were able to get tax dollars for to renovate.

“This partner is going to be seven minutes from us. … What happens at those stores will impact whatever happens at 63rd and Halsted.” 

Credit: Atavia Reed/Block Club Chicago
An aisle inside the planned Save A lot grocery store, 832 W. 63rd St.

Yellow Banana “closed on the stores” in 2021 but didn’t receive the tax-increment financing for renovations until this March, Canfield said. 

The company received a “$25 million transaction that will allow us to acquire the underlying stores and do a total rehab of them,” said Michael Nance, co-owner of Yellow Banana. Overall, the Cleveland-based company is investing $26.5 million to renovate the South and West side stores, according to Crain’s.

As Yellow Banana waited for funding, it changed its produce suppliers and updated its lines to include organic products at neighbors’ requests, Nance said. 

“We were well aware of the lack of investment and conditions of the buildings,” Nance said. “We need to update them, and we saw this as an opportunity to make good on our mission to provide healthy, affordable, quality food to folks who look like us, grew up in places like the ones we grew up in.” 

But neighbors questioned how rotten food could go unmissed and conditions could remain subpar at a company that promises quality products. 

Yellow Banana is “not perfect,” Canfield said. The company is going to “miss some stuff,” he said.

“In terms of expired products on the shelf, I know it’s not going to be popular, but you could go into any grocery store any time, and if you look hard enough, you’re going to find some expired products,” Canfield said.  “We have to do a better job of trying to stay on top of it. We have category rotation schedules. We rotate dairy, protein and produce every day. But sometimes we make mistakes.” 

Credit: Atavia Reed/Block Club Chicago
Bottled drinks are stacked up inside the planned Save A Lot grocery store, 832 W. 63rd St.

Save A Lot has “a lot of work to do” before it can successfully enter the community, said Ald. Stephanie Coleman (16th), whose ward includes the store. 

Yellow Banana and Save A Lot will decide if they still plan to open their Englewood store in a “follow-up discussion after the meeting,” said Leon Bergmann, CEO at Save A Lot.

“I understand the strong opinions here this evening,” Bergmann said. “We also know how many people regularly come by the store asking when it’s going to open. So, I don’t know the perfect answer to your question. … What I do know is that this area deserves a great grocery store.”

But Englewood won’t be Save A Lot’s “pilot program,” said local organizer Joseph Williams.

“We’re going to be a community that you’re going to have to respect.,” Williams said. “You’re going to have to come to the table correctly … .”

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