I always figured Mariano’s would put Dominick’s out of business. The head of Mariano’s left Dominick’s and started Mariano’s. Not a good sign. And then I started noticing that wherever Dominick’s had a pretty good business, Mariano’s opened nearby. It was only a matter of time–and design.
What really surprised me, though, is that after only two days of Mariano’s being in business in the South Loop at 16th and Clark, just a stone’s throw from Dominick’s at Roosevelt and Canal, Dominick’s announced it was leaving Chicago. There must be a connection. A final nail in the coffin? Mariano’s in the South Loop? Goodbye, Dominick’s!
It looks like our very own South Loop Dominick’s is going to turn into a Jewel. What this means for the Jewel at Roosevelt and State–across from my house–I do not know. Nor do I partcularly care. Because in the South Loop, we have grocery stores up to the eyeballs!
Which wasn’t always the case. In fact, when I moved to my house in the South Loop 19 years ago, we barely had any. We had a place called Printers Row Market at 8th and State, which was found–after a thorough television investigation–to be selling meat that was a year old. That sort of thing. My neighbors and I basically got in our cars and went to other neighborhoods to shop.
Until a little before the turn of the last century–when Dominick’s opened on Roosevelt in a mall. They had a grand opening. And everyone was all excited. Like the Second Coming. Then in 2001, Jewel came. Then Whole Foods and Target came to Roosevelt Road, too. And Trader Joe’s. And Costco opened at 14th and Ashland. (A little too far to be considered the South Loop, but calling itself the South Loop Costco just the same.) And everyone was really excited each and every time. Just like they were on Tuesday when Mariano’s opened it’s doors on 16th Street. In fact, everyone was quite excited when Mariano’s had its groundbreaking last year.
As each new store came, they got better. More interesting. More innovative. Anything to capture the imagination of South Loopers–and those passing through the South Loop. And a number of very good smallish specialty groceries opened, too
Mariano’s was no different on Tuesday. I had a tour at 11 AM that morning. And it was remarkable, to say the least. For example, they sport a huge wall of shelves full of fresh, obscure spices presented in bulk jars. You want only an ounce of a spice? Because you probably won’t use it ever again, and why buy more and let it go to waste? Mariano’s will spoon it out for you in the amount you need.
You want good prices for gorgeous bakery products? Wild Gelato flavors, served at a gelato bar? Piano music? They have one in every store. An in-store sing-along for your preschooler? Good wine? The wine buyer dares you to blindfold yourself and pick a bottle–any bottle–and it will be good, he says.
You want to buy a burger or a nice piece of fish and you want it now? Grilled? Take it home or eat it there? They’ve got a grill going at all times and you can ask them to grill you a brat, a hotdog, a steak, a burger, a piece of salmon, a piece of trout, a portobello mushroom–anything at all–hot and delicious. And quick.
A pint of fresh orange juice is yours for a dollar. A smoothie with kale for a good de-tox is yours for the asking.
How about an 80 pound Hawaiian Opah fish? Or organic scallions for a dollar a bunch? I can’t remember them being that low–organic or not. How about an enormous taffy apple made before your very eyes drenched in M&Ms? Or a great cup of espresso–so good some of the South Loop coffee klatch places are already afraid of stiff and deadly competition.
Then there’s those pizza Thursday nights (you get a lot for $10). A very authentic sushi bar. A hot bar full of comfort food like spaghetti Bolognese. Full dinners, freshly made for $6 ($10 for steak). You get a free pint glass if you put together two custom made craft beer six packs.
How about two freshly made long French loaves for a dollar?
There’s an olive bar, sandwiches galore, tons of gluten-free products, a soup bar with award-winning soups and a flower shop with a horticulturist to design you a lovely vase full. And an International section with the actual flags of the countries hanging from the ceiling, and over the aisle. Not to mention lots of indie vendors. And plenty of free samples.
Add it all up–and you have a cross between Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, with a little bit of Costco, Jewel, Aldi and Target thrown in.
Only one thing left to say: Dominick’s, you were smart to give up.