Will Chicago Be 1st City to Own a Grocery Store?

Mayor Brandon Johnson announces pursuit of municipally run stores to combat food insecurity
Lynn Petrak
Senior Editor
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Chicago Mayor Johnson
Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson touts the concept of city-owned grocery stores to shore up food security and equity.

Is the City of Chicago about to delve into the grocery business? This week, Mayor Brandon Johnson, only a few months into his first term, announced that his administration is exploring the possibility of opening municipally-owned grocery stores in the city.

The proposed venture is a partnership between the city government and the nonprofit Economic Security Project. Their mutual goal is to provide relief in longtime food deserts.  

[Read more: “EXCLUSIVE: What Is Food as Engagement?”]

“All Chicagoans deserve to live near convenient, affordable, healthy grocery options. We know access to grocery stores is already a challenge for many residents, especially on the South and West sides,” said Mayor Johnson. “A better, stronger, safer future is one where our youth and our communities have access to the tools and resources they need to thrive. My administration is committed to advancing innovative, whole-of-government approaches to address these inequities. I am proud to work alongside partners to take this step in envisioning what a municipally owned grocery store in Chicago could look like.”

Added Ameya Pawar, senior advisor at Economic Security Project: “The City of Chicago is reimagining the role government can play in our lives by exploring a public option for grocery stores via a municipally owned grocery store and market. Not dissimilar from the way a library or the postal service operates, a public option offers economic choice and power to communities. A City-owned grocery store in the South or West side of Chicago would be a viable way to restore access to healthy food in areas that have suffered from historic and systemic disinvestment."

The official statement underlined the important role that grocery stores play in daily lives and in neighborhoods in general. “Grocery stores serve as anchors in communities by employing community members and acting as a catalytic business for nearby commercial activity,” the announcement declared.  

In its announcement, the City of Chicago cited U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) statistics showing that 63.5% of residents in the West Englewood neighborhoods and 52% of those who live in the East Garfield Park community live more than a half mile from the nearest grocery store.

The first step in the process is a feasibility study that will help the mayoral team shape its retail strategy. The study will include input from community leaders, industry experts and the Chicago Food Equity Council. Additionally, the city will work with the state on potential funding through the new Illinois Grocery Initiative that aims to provide $20 million in grants and technical assistance for grocery stores within Illinois.

Private retailers are also working to improve food access in Chicago’s South and West Sides. In May, a new Save A Lot store opened in the Englewood neighborhood in a site formerly occupied by Whole Foods Market. Save A Lot operator Yellow Banana is investing $26.5 million for new stores in those areas and is currently updating another location in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood.

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