The Corner Grocery Store 2.0

The Corner Grocery Store 2.0

The corner grocery store has been a part of Chicago since the inception of the city. Ask any Chicagoan and they can tell you stories about going to Mr/Mrs Jones corner store for their parents/grandparents. The neighborhood grocer was respected in the community and took pride in the products he offered as he consumed these products as well. Unfortunately, the corporate grocery store took over and made it economically infeasible for most small grocers to operate. When the corporate stores decided to exit the communities then the corporate convenience store arrived that focused more on junk food and other items then food. The corporate convenience store went the same route as the corporate grocery store and exited the community.

The Chatham community was fortunate and unique in the fact that the small grocer and larger corporate stores were able to coexist. Stores such as Chatham Foods and Food Basket were able to hold their own against larger stores such as Jewel and Dominick's. Their success also attracted some others who did not care about what they sold. The dollar store, gas station convenience marts and other grocers sprung up with some selling outdated merchandise and low quality items. Some have also been alleged to be fronts for illegal activities. Many residents dislike these type of stores but these stores attract younger buyers and others who are unemployed or on fixed incomes.

Very soon a new grocery store will open up with plans to erase the stigma of the corner grocery store. Louis' Groceries is a new grocery store opening at 7604 S Cottage Grove that will serve residents of Park Manor, Chatham and Grand Crossing. The store came about because several entrepreneurs and community activist frustration with the "food desert" dilemma that is going on in the city and suburbs. The group of individuals decided to form a non for profit and open a grocery store that would be a model that could be duplicated in other parts of the city.

Louis' Groceries mission per the website is as follows:

  • Supply residents with fresh fruits and vegetables, along with other nutritious items, which are currently not readily available
  • Develop a business model to share with other neighborhood stores for successfully retailing produce on a small scale in underserved communities
  • Learn about individuals’ food choices, and encourage healthier food consumption through in-store educational programming and promotions and incentives

The store plans to carry a variety of fruits and vegetables, fresh meats and nutritional snacks. Unlike most convenience stores the fruits and vegetables will be prominently displayed as you enter versus being inundated with potato chips and other junk food items. The store is also working with local urban farms to source seasonal and specialty fruits and vegetables. The store will initially have items from Gary Comer Youth Center Urban garden.

The small format only allows the store to carry basic staples that most families eat. The store is stocking both premium and value brand items. This allows those on fixed incomes to have access to decent products. Also a major component is the demonstration kitchen/classroom. The kitchen is equipped with a standard household range and oven and not a commercial one to demonstrate that the recipe and ideas being prepared can be done at home. The store is initially starting out their demonstrations with Chef Ramona Baptiste who operates Chef in the Hood and the University of Illinois Extension offering  nutrition classes. Others are welcome to come as the demonstration kitchen also serves a classroom/meeting space as well.

louis groceries staffThe store will have assistance from professors and research professionals from the University of Chicago.  These professors will analyze food choices as it relates to healthy eating. The store officially opens today and general manager Terri Zhu and her staff are looking forward to meeting the community. For more information you can email them at info@louisgroceries.org. For vendor and volunteer inquiries contact them via email at tzhu@louisgroceries.org

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  • A couple of curiosities:
    1. If I remember correctly, that area (at least around 79th and Cottage) at one time (maybe 40 years ago) was the home of various Elijah Muhammad enterprises.
    2. As far as corporate junk convenience stores, you appear correct that not even Sav-A-Lot could make it at 79th and Perry. Moo and Oink are also gone. Which brings us to...
    3. There must be a demand issue, if produce is such a big deal on the South Side, while the ethnics on the north side have an abundance of produce markets, making it usually unnecessary to shop at Jewel.
    4. And, of course, the new Walmart is nearby, although I haven't seen that one in any comparison ads lately.

  • In reply to jack:

    Great observations Jack. The Nation of Islam empire that included Your Supermarket, Shabazz Bakery and Salaam Restaurant all ended up being sold off during the split after Elijah Muhammad's death.
    Also, the question of demand is a valid one as you mentioned the several stores but also the fall of the 71st State Street fruit and vegetable markets. I have argued that they is no food desert in Chatham but individuals who made poor buying decisions and even the presence of Whole Foods is not going to necessarily change that.
    Lastly, Walmart hasn't been a big factor as of yet, while they have place some pricing pressure on Jewel, the panacea that many expected hasn't materialized.

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