How A Food Desert Happens

How A Food Desert Happens

I read Greg Trotters’ column in Thursday’s Chicago Tribune about the food desert my old neighborhood (Calumet Park), has become and it’s true but sad because that’s my old hood but it wasn’t always like that.

I grew up across 123rd Street (the northern boundary of), Calumet Park.

It’s as far south in Chicago you can go at that point (west of Halsted), and it’s a community that raised me but changed immensely over my 32 years there.

The recently closed Ultra Foods on Ashland and Vermont used to be Raceway Park racetrack until a little over 15 years ago and that’s a whole other story.

When I was little (mid 70’s until the early 1980’s), this was a Polish and Irish community with a few minorities mixed in and then it was a nice African American and Mexican American community.

We had a plethora of options to buy food, the local stores were Dressel’s on Halsted just south of 123rd, originally a bakery, later became a problematic liquor store in the 1990’s and now closed.

Mario’s was small grocery store at 123rd & Throop, it too became a problematic liquor store in the 1990’s and also closed, it’s a vacant lot now.

Kissel’s was a full service grocery store at 126th & Ashland, really affordable and nice, everything you needed was there, it’s now a dollar store.

Rainbow was its competitor but not as big on 127th & Loomis, a local store with most of your groceries but Kissel’s had better meat. Rainbow still there and has completely rebuilt though more of a convenience store now.

Jewel had two stores a short drive away, 115th & Halsted back in Chicago (its closed and replaced by a location at 119th & Marshfield also in Chicago), and 127th & Vincennes in Blue Island, it closed a few years ago, was left vacant and got bulldozed and is now a gas station.

If you go way back in the 70’s a small Jewel was at 127th & Halsted, it later became a Walgreens and is now a dollar store.

Walgreens had the aforementioned store at 127th & Halsted and built two new stores Vermont & Ashland (its still there), and 127th & Western (it’s closed and vacant), they also had really nice one at 118th & Western (technically Chicago), and it’s now a hardware store.

See a pattern here?

My old hood had stores and they left and what’s left isn’t worth talking about.

We were on a slow decline since the late 1980’s with more break-ins and violence and then crime took off when the “high rise projects” of the Chicago Housing Authority closed in the late 1990’s.

I’ll give Calumet Park credit, their police force patrolled regularly and when there was an accident or shooting they always responded quickly even if it was on the Chicago side of 123rd Street.

But this neighborhood decline just took most of the good businesses with it.

Thus there were fewer and fewer decent food options until now they only have a small Aldi (Vermont & Ashland), and a bunch of dollar stores and a few convenience stores.

Yes there is the aforementioned Jewel & a Target at “Marshfield Plaza” at 119th & Marshfield (right at I-57), but I used to walk home from there after getting off the 119th Street bus on my late days from Brother Rice High School.

And there was nothing up there then and it’s a long walk (almost 2 miles), and a congested drive with cars entering and exiting the expressway.

See this is about having good food options close and I’m telling you this area used to have it and now it’s gone and these are the people that need it the most.

Yes I’m still passionate about my old hood and yes I left almost 10 years ago because of the lack of resources and I wasn’t alone.

In my current eastern Will County neighborhood I have a lot of closer and better food options.

But so many stores and options shouldn’t have gone with us (actually before us), they deserve better in my old hood.

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