The City of Chicago considers becoming a grocery operator

Mayor Brandon Johnson said Chicago is conducting a feasibility study to determine whether it could open a municipally owned grocery store in an underserved neighborhood on the South or West side.
Chicago is considering creating a city-owned grocery store. / Photo: Shutterstock

The City of Chicago is in the early stages of planning a city-owned grocery store in a neighborhood with limited access to fresh food, Mayor Brandon Johnson announced Wednesday.

The city is working with Economic Security Project, a national non-profit organization, on a feasibility study to create a roadmap toward opening the store. At least six grocery stores, including four Walmart locations,  have closed on Chicago’s South and West sides over the past two years, the city said.

“All Chicagoans deserve to live near convenient, accordable, healthy grocery options,” Johnson said in a statement. “We know access to grocery stores is already a challenge for many residents, especially on the South and West sides … I am proud to work alongside partners to take this step in envisioning what a municipally owned grocery store in Chicago could look like.”

Last month, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker signed the Illinois Grocery Initiative, freeing up $20 million to invest in food deserts across the state by opening or expanding grocery stores in underserved rural towns and urban neighborhoods.

If the mayor’s plan proceeds, it would be the first time Chicago has owned a grocery store.

Last year, the city awarded a $13.5 million community investment grant to Save A Lot operator Yellow Banana to refurbish and reopen grocery stores on Chicago’s South and West sides.

Access to groceries is a major problem in those neighborhoods. Nearly two-thirds (63.5%) of West Englewood residents and 52% of East Garfield Park residents live more than a half mile from a grocery store, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data cited by the city. Plus, the city said, 37% of Black residents and 29% of Latine/x residents are food insecure, compared to 19% of Chicago residents overall.

Expanding grocery access not only makes it easier for residents to purchase food, the city noted, but it keeps those dollars in the neighborhood.

“The City of Chicago is reimagining the role government can play in our lives by exploring a public option for grocery stores via a municipally owned grocery store and market,” Ameya Pawar, senior advisor at Economic Security Project, said in a statement. “Not dissimilar from the way a library or the postal service operates, a public option offers economic choice and power to communities. A city-owned grocery store on the South or West side of Chicago would be a viable way to restore access to healthy food in areas that have suffered from historic and systemic disinvestment.”



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