By Patrick Forrest
Former Chicago Bears linebacker Sam Acho and other athletes raised a half million dollars to purchase a liquor store in the Austin neighborhood. The Belmonte Cut Rate Liquors on the West Side was purchased with the help of athletes from multiple teams in the city including Mitch Trubisky, Jonathan Toews, Lucas Giolito, Jason Heyward and Diamond DeShields, among others. The liquor store was demolished and will be replaced by a fresh foods market.
Much of the Austin neighborhood is considered a food desert within the half-mile area surrounding the 423 N. Laramie Ave. location, which has 12 liquor stores and just two fresh grocery stores. This information about the lack of fresh food options came to light during a listening circle, led by youth who participate in the By The Hand Club For Kids, after the George Floyd protests against police violence.
“What I heard coming out of that was that students wanted to take all those raw and powerful emotions and turn them into something good and do something from a social justice standpoint,” said Donnita Travis, executive director of By The Hand Club For Kids.
The youth will create a pop-up market in partnership with the Hatchery Chicago, which will create a culinary pathways program so that the youth can focus on developing entrepreneurial and business skills such as licensing and customer service.
“We would have fresh fruits and vegetables, but it would also be a place where people feel safe and want to hang out,” Travis said. “We could have some music and maybe we can do some healthy cooking and nutrition demonstrations and education, because not everyone knows or appreciates nutrition.”
The youth were joined at the beginning of the liquor store’s demolition by Mayor Lori Lightfoot, various professional athletes, as well as National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell.
“The cool thing about having Roger here, having the mayor here, having the Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department here and having more than 12 athletes from all of the different Chicago sports teams and other athletes who are just from Chicago or are on different teams in the NFL, MLB etc., is that people care,” former Bears player Sam Acho said.
“It’s a time for people to show up. I think our world has changed. So, for us to be able to come together and say we’re going to lead that change, it means something.”
Demolition is expected to be completed within two weeks with the pop-up market shop operational in August. Participating youth will have the market operational for a few days during the week, and they will be paid for their work.
“This is a real entrepreneurship opportunity for them, but also an opportunity for them to bring food justice to our neighborhood,” Travis said.