Within the past year, there have been two notable grocery stores that have recently entered the market on Chicago’s south side: Whole Foods of Englewood and Mariano’s of Bronzeville. Both stores have ventured to impact the built environment in a positive way and have met the surrounding community’s need to bring fresh food to each locale and support the area’s economic and community development. Although improving the south side of Chicago as a whole is not complete, exploring the way each grocer has executed their plans to enter these two markets can shed light on the wonderful impact that new and sustainable retail can provide to communities in need.
Whole Foods of the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago opened early September of 2016. This grocer focused on community engagement over the preceding years to be sure this 18,000 square foot store would serve the community as intended. The store is part of developer DL3 Realty’s Englewood Square Development and is a $15.8M, 5.5-acre parcel development. This parcel’s development is part of the larger 13-acre development near Kennedy King College. An Illinois nonprofit, Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives, will develop the remaining portions of the larger parcel at a later date.
Whole Foods hosted four community meetings from the fall of 2013 through the summer of 2015 to hear what’s important to the community, understand what the residents hoped for the store and listen to the inspiration from the community; they then incorporated those suggestions into the design, décor and economic model of the Englewood store.
The brand also held a public call for local artists interested in submitting artwork for the inside of the store; students at Providence Englewood Elementary School in the neighborhood created art now displayed in the store.
To support the successful creation of jobs, Whole Foods performed radio-outreach for an employment education series for the community. They began in March of 2016 and continued the employment education series through May of 2016. In this series the brand focused on workshops and resources to help residents build their skills and gain access to area employment resources. These resources included resume workshops, interview training, team building, a customer service bootcamp, and a job resource fair. The Englewood Whole Foods now has over 100 team members at the store, with 85 members from the south side and 35 members from Englewood.
With the median household income of the area hovering at $20,000, Whole Foods had to examine its economic model and provide a reduced cost structure to be sure residents could afford the food within the store. The reduced prices from their normal cost structure range from a 5% reduction in price on certain food items to a 50% reduction on others. Whole Foods believes that fresh and healthy foods should be accessible to every community; with the Englewood store they were able to achieve this sustainable price reduction by offering not only food sales, but also including a product mix that includes Whole Foods’ 365 Everyday Value line and more conventional and bulk items in the store.
Whole Foods maintained their commitment to economic development by providing entrepreneurial support to food innovators not only in Englewood, but also the greater south side. The grocer provided an Englewood Entrepreneurial Workshop series that provided business training on product development, safety and licensing to residents who were interested in food start-ups. They also provided a Supplier Expo, which connected these start-ups with necessary business resources such as: insurance, labeling, distribution and financing.
Sponsored by Teamwork Englewood, the Teamwork of Englewood Quality of Life Business Competition occurred in December of 2016, which provided $40,000 in small business grants to area start-ups. The winners of the grants were: Englewood Breweries, a microbrewery, FBG Cookies and Company, a cookie producer and Forever Fitness Chicago, LLC, a business providing vending machines with healthy food options to the community.
Just northeast of Englewood, Mariano’s of the Bronzeville neighborhood opened early October of 2016. This $26M development boasts 74,800 square feet of fresh food and upscale offerings such as a wine bar, oyster bar, sushi and gourmet barbeque. It is built on the former site of The Chicago Housing Authority’s Ida B. Wells building. This Mariano’s also created 400 jobs, with 100 of those jobs held by current CHA residents with the store serving as an anchor for future development.
This development came to pass by partnerships and support by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, The Chicago Housing Authority, Alderman Pat Dowell, Alderman Will Burns, Johnson and Lee Architects, Quad Communities Development Corp, Safeway Construction, WBS Equities, Abbott Land, Milhouse Engineering and Construction, Powers and Sons, Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership, Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives, IFF, Centers for New Horizons, Artist and Urban Planner Chris Devins and Artist Hebru Brantley.
James Hyland, Mariano’s Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs, provided input on the brand, overall corporate strategy and community focus of the store with Mariano’s store concepts centered around fresh product offerings, high quality merchandising and world class customer service. A part of that customer service and subsequent success of these community grocers is the incorporation of Bronzeville’s distinct culture into the grocery merchandising so customers can truly have a unique and warm shopping experience.
Mariano’s partnered with local Artist Hebru Brantley to create wonderful artwork for the interior of the store. Chris Devins, also an Artist and Urban Planner, installed exterior murals of historical community residents such as: Nat King Cole, Lorraine Hansberry and many others.
Unlike the Whole Foods in Englewood, the economic model for the Bronzeville Mariano’s is no different than any other store in the brand’s portfolio. Their current brand is an Every Day Low Price model; the Bronzeville store offers promotions on certain foods that reflect the ethnic food preferences of the neighborhood’s residents. Although Mariano’s does not disclose the revenue of any of their stores, the brand is quite pleased with not only the financial performance of the store, but also the acceptance of the store’s offerings by the surrounding community.
Both Mariano’s and Whole Foods’ commitment to begin alleviating the food desert problem that impacts so many communities in Chicago and beyond shows with research, commitment, community engagement and extension of resources, corporations focused on the community can impact the built environment in a positive way. Let’s hope that other business will follow suit and help improve communities in an economically responsible and sustainable way.