In the last few months, two Black-owned portfolio companies pledged to invest $25 million into Save-A-Lot stores throughout Chicago’s South and West sides to address population decline by investing in Black communities. Grassroots organizations like the portfolio companies, 127 Wall Company and Yellow Banana, and Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) aim to revitalize low-income communities by increasing viable food options.
“We currently are in the process of putting together the financial package to rehab and acquire the underlying real estate for six sites in Chicago,” co-founder of 127 Wall Company Michael Nance said. “One is a shuttered grocery store at 79th and Halsted in the Auburn Gresham community that was shuttered in February 2020. It’s much needed in that community as Aldi recently shut down their grocery store there a couple of months ago.”
By June 2023, all six sites owned by the 127 Wall Company and Yellow Banana are expected to be open for shoppers with the hope that more grocery stores will encourage people to stay in their communities.
IMAN is a community organization that addresses food and health insecurity in predominantly Black and low-income Chicago neighborhoods. The organization envisions providing greater produce options to corner stores that already exist to increase food access in resource deserts.
When communities lack grocery stores, safe public spaces, and pharmacies, they’re labeled resource deserts. Resource deserts contribute to people leaving communities to find greater access to their needs in other areas.
In the last year, three grocery stores and one pharmacy in the South and West sides of Chicago have closed. In June, the Aldi in Auburn Gresham closed, citing crime as its motivation for leaving, although the 17th Ward Alderman David Moore noted that crime incidents primarily occurred during the 2020 civil unrest.
“When you have fewer grocery stores, pharmacies, and retail options in the neighborhood, it results in a decline in property value,” senior director of strategic initiatives at IMAN, Sana Syed said. “It’s all interconnected.”
Chicago’s property taxes — an estimate of the market value and due taxes on a property — have been linked to inflation since 2020. With that in mind, grocery store and pharmacy closures may have less to do with crime and more to do with rising property taxes.
Chicago’s most recent median commercial effective tax rate — the tax rate that corporations pay on their pre-tax profits — was recorded in 2019 at 8.26%, according to the Civic Federation. The Civic Federation is a non-partisan government research organization that provides analysis on financial issues in Illinois.
In a corner store on 63rd and Ashland, shoppers can purchase produce, meats, and fish, although there are only eight or nine fruit and vegetable options and none are fresh. Fast food chains in the area like McDonald’s and Checkers stay open the longest among food options including the variety and corner stores.
A 2021 analysis from the McKinsey Institute for Black Economic Mobility found that 15.6 million Black households in the United States are positioned where there are more convenience stores, but fewer grocery stores and farmers’ markets.
“That results in spending leakage from the neighborhoods, which means that people are spending their money in other neighborhoods,” Syed said. “Therefore, tax revenue that is generated from that spending is not being reinvested into Black neighborhoods.”
Between 2000 to 2020, Black resident populations have decreased by 44% in Englewood, 50% in Humboldt Park, and 56% in New City according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
In the last year, Aldi locations have closed in Auburn Gresham and West Garfield Park, yet there has not been any Aldi grocery store closures in predominantly White Chicago neighborhoods. White neighborhoods have fewer Aldi’s but have other grocery stores like Mariano’s, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s.
Behind the shuttered Aldi on 73rd and Ashland, there’s a Walmart Neighborhood Market. One could go blocks before seeing a grocery store on Ashland, but there are several gas stations, corner stores, fried fish and chicken restaurants, and a Family Dollar on 68th and Ashland that offers food options. The Family Dollar doesn’t have fresh produce, yet there was a 30-inch section of canned vegetables.
Two shuttered CVS locations between 59th and Ashland and 79th and Ashland sit empty with faded monikers and boarded-up storefronts.
CVS announced in 2021 that it will close 900 stores over a three-year period to refocus on expanding its healthcare options. The company did not disclose how many Chicago stores will be closed.
“Businesses that are national or regionally owned by corporations tend to pull the plug and then use crime as an excuse for leaving,” CEO of the Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation, Carlos Nelson said. “If corporations had local representation on their leadership boards, I think that would significantly help the community.”
Neither Aldi nor CVS returned calls to give statements about closures or possible reopenings.
“We really do need the resources in the community. This land is just too far for people to be moving around back and forth,” 67-year-old Englewood resident Dennise Myrick said. In Englewood, roughly 49% of residents don’t own cars, according to the 2021 Community Data Snapshot of Englewood. When stores close, shoppers are forced to either walk or use buses to meet their needs. Greater food options provided by grassroots organizations could expand access to community members who may not have the means to travel long distances for healthy foods.