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Black grocer receives $13.5M city grant to buy Save-A-Lot stores

After a wave of grocery closings resulting in food deserts, the city of Chicago on Monday, July 18, announced that it awarded a $13.5 million grant to Yellow Banana, a Black-owned grocery company that wants to buy and renovate Save-A-Lot stores on the South and West sides.

The grant was the largest of more than $49 million in grant funding announced by the city Monday.

Founded by Michael Nance and Ademola Adewale-Sadik in 2021, Yellow Banana plans to put in new LED lighting, HVAC and refrigeration systems, as well as install new fixtures and bathrooms in the existing stores.

Yellow Banana said the renovations will require stores to close for about three to four weeks each. Yellow Banana plans to stagger the renovations and provide transportation to shuttle customers to other grocery stores while their Save-A-Lot is closed.

Yellow Banana also plans to re-open the Auburn Gresham store, which closed in 2020. Yellow Banana has operated those stores under the Save-A-Lot name since late 2021, but the buildings are owned by Save-A-Lot. The total cost of the project is estimated at $26 million.

Yellow Banana operates 38 Save-A-Lots across a handful of cities including Milwaukee and Cleveland.

In 2020, Save-A-Lot announced plans to sell its corporate-owned retail stores as it focuses on its wholesaling business. The company now owns and operates 18 out of more than 850 stores nationwide.

In a statement, Save-A-Lot CEO Leon Bergmann said Yellow Banana understands “the unique challenges these communities face, and are committed and determined to work with each neighborhood to serve them in the best way possible by providing healthy food at affordable prices, and giving them a refreshed and improved Save-A-Lot experience.”

The six stores Yellow Banana already operates in Chicago are located at 4439 W. 63rd St. in West Lawn, 420 S. Pulaski Road in West Garfield Park, 2858 E. 83rd St. in South Chicago, 10700 S. Halsted St. in Morgan Park, 7240 S. Stony Island Ave. in Grand Crossing and 644 E. 63rd St. in West Woodlawn. The West Woodlawn store is not included in the city grant funding.

Yellow Banana hopes to open the Auburn Gresham store, located at 7908 S. Halsted, by the end of the year. Aldi’s said it closed the store after declining sales and “repeated burglaries.” The company said within the last five years, there were seven burglaries on the store’s block, two of which took place at a grocery store.

Last June, the neighborhood lost Aldi’s, which abruptly closed its store that’s located less than two miles from the closed Save-A-Lot. In April, Whole Foods said it will close the Englewood store it opened to much fanfare in 2016 with the help of $10.7 million in city funding. While a closing date has not been announced, the city’s sales agreement with the site developer requires a new grocery store to be up and running within 18 months once Whole Foods leaves.

Last year, Aldi’s closed its store in West Garfield Park, sparking protests from community leaders. Earlier this year, aldermen authorized Chicago to purchase the shuttered West Garfield Park Aldi for $700,000. No replacement has been announced, but the city expects to close on the property this summer. The city is in talks with potential grocers for the location.

On Monday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Aldi’s should be “ashamed” for closing stores on the South and West sides while keeping stores on the North Side.

“If your business isn’t succeeding, that is one thing. Come to us and we will try to work with you to help support it,” Lightfoot said. “But if your business isn’t succeeding and you make what I think is always a tough decision to close, don’t blame the community and make them out to be thieves and worse because your business didn’t succeed.”

“Aldi’s hear me loud and clear,” Lightfoot said. “Come to the table and talk and work with us, or there are going to be major challenges for you in the city of Chicago.”

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