Ten Miles to the Next Tomato: Bringing grocery stores and other key retail to Chicago’s retail deserts - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Ten Miles to the Next Tomato: Bringing grocery stores and other key retail to Chicago’s retail deserts

Concerned about the results of a study showing that poor communities in the city lack grocery stores and other basic retail stores, the Chicago City Council’s Committee on Economic, Capital and Technology Development held a hearing on Nov. 29, 2005, to consider options for bringing fresh vegetables and fruit to the city’s retail deserts.

Concerned about the results of a study showing that poor communities in the city lack grocery stores and other basic retail stores, the Chicago City Council’s Committee on Economic, Capital and Technology Development held a hearing on Nov. 29 to consider options for bringing fresh vegetables and fruit to the city’s retail deserts. Grocery store development is particularly important to examine because they are both a vital source of food for residents and magnets for additional healthy retail development in the city’s neighborhoods.

The City Council has recently played a more active role in wooing attractive retail stores to the city’s neighborhoods. The chair of the committee, Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th Ward), and committee member Ald. Manny Flores (1st Ward), earlier this year successfully fought to reduce the ability of grocery stores to use restrictive covenants to block competition.

Restrictive covenants prevent a company from buying a site vacated by a grocery store and reopening it as a different grocery store. Because of restrictive covenants, when a grocery story or pharmacy moves away, the property often sits vacant for an extended period of time; even worse, the loss of a grocery store can bring down the rest of the retail establishments in the neighborhood. Now, Laurino and Flores, and many of their colleagues, are eager to work with the city’s Department of Planning and Development (DPD) to plant and grow new and nourish existing healthy retail in all of the city’s neighborhoods.

And it appears DPD is listening. New Commissioner Lori Healey outlined her department’s plan to hold a grocery store expo early next year to advertise Chicago neighborhoods to major and local grocery store retailers. DPD is developing strategies to market underserved communities and educate retailers on how to build competitive stores in dense areas of the city.

At the hearing, MPC commended Laurino, Flores and DPD for their proactive zoning and marketing work to attract more retail development, and offered the following suggestions in prepared testimony:

  • Weave retail development into other citywide efforts
    • As the Chicago Housing Authority continues its Plan for Transformation, ensuring the development of adequate grocery resources near each of the 10 redeveloping sites should be a priority.
    • The city’s ongoing analysis of industrial demand and available land involves examining industrial corridors from the North to the South Side. MPC recommends DPD also consider opportunities for retail conversion where industrial no longer proves viable.
  • Analyze the role of independent grocers . Where appropriate, entrepreneurs ought to be encouraged to fill the void left by national chains so Chicago not only can provide the appropriate services to all its residents, but simultaneously encourage competition and homegrown businesses.

To read the Metropolitan Planning Council’s full testimony, click here .

To read the Metro Chicago Information Center’s report, “Chain Reaction: Income, Race, and Access to Chicago ’s Major Player Grocers," click here.

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