It says a lot that grocery businesses often work together for the betterment of communities. In one recent example, an independent Save A Lot operator and Whole Foods Market found a solution to serve the needs of the Englewood neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago, an area that has long been considered a food desert.
Whole Foods opened its store at 832 W. 63rd Street in 2016 to a good deal of buzz. Likewise, when the Amazon-owned retailer shuttered the location last year, there were renewed concerns about access to food in a neighborhood that is among the most economically-disadvantaged in Chicago.
[Read more: "Flashfood Coming to More Save A Lot Stores"]
Yellow Banana, a Black-owned retail grocery platform that owns and operates close to 40 stores under the Save A Lot banner, was interested in taking over the site, but there were discussions with several other retailers with an eye on the location. “We had some initial conversations with Whole Foods when they were considering their options, but we couldn’t make anything work. They talked to other grocers all over the Chicago area and at the 11th hour, they called us and said they wanted to be a good corporate citizen and asked if we could help out,” recalled Joe Canfield, one of the co-owners of the Cleveland, Ohio-based Yellow Banana.
Fellow co-owner Michael Nance said that the opportunity reflects the group’s mission to provide service and contribute to society. “We really want to be a partner with communities across the country, working with local municipalities and solving issues around food insecurity. Englewood is one such community and this is our trademark to create solutions where other operators either can’t or are not willing to,” he explained.
Save A Lot’s entrance to the neighborhood comes at a time of high inflation and problematic food equity. “Leveraging the Save A Lot banner and price points will help us make this store a success and is consistent with the broader development work we are doing,” added Nance.
Yellow Banana, which is part of 127 Wall Holdings, LLC founded by Nance, Walker Brumskine, Ademola Adewale-Sadik and later joined by Canfield, is also working with the city and neighborhood organizations to ensure the success of the Englewood store that is slated to open in late March. The group has received $13.5 million in grants from the City of Chicago for this and other projects, and the team is engaging with community partners including One Chicago for All, the Englewood Chamber of Commerce, Englewood United and others.
Community partnerships extend to the vendors that will supply this Save A Lot store, including local entrepreneurs and Black-owned brands. “We’ve been engaging with many groups already. Today, for example, I talked to a woman who created a Black hair care and accessory line,” noted Canfield.
In addition to carrying a variety of products from local vendors – including fresh produce from neighbored gardens later this year – this Save A Lot location will feature a wide assortment of grocery essentials, along with a self-service seafood counter and a meat counter staffed by a professional butcher. A full-time demo staffer is also part of the plan. “This will be a flagship store for in the city of Chicago, and we’ll be able to offer things that you don’t typically see at a Save A Lot,” said Canfield.
Ahead of the opening this spring, the team has already hired more than a dozen people from the Englewood neighborhood. As the Yellow Banana team readies this store on 63rd Street, they are hardly pausing their growth plans: The group recently received a grant to support the addition of a Save A Lot location in another Chicago food desert, in the Far South Side neighborhood of Altgeld Gardens.
Yellow Banana is a retail grocery platform that operates 38 stores under the Save A Lot banner across the Cleveland, Chicago, Milwaukee, Jacksonville and Dallas metropolitan areas. Founded in 2021, Yellow Banana endeavors to deliver essential nutrition to working families at affordable prices.Save A Lot has more than 850 stores in 32 states. The Earth City, Mo.-based company is No. 60 on The PG 100, Progressive Grocer’s 2022 list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America. Whole Foods is a wholly owned subsidiary of Seattle-based Amazon, which is No. 2 on The PG 100.