The Crusader Newspaper Group

Mariano’s one year later

Taste of Mariano’s, 3857 S. King Drive Saturday, October 28 and Sunday, October 29 Food samples, wine tastings, kids’ activities Noon to 4 p.m.

By Erick Johnson, Chicago Crusader

WINEIt’s a typical Saturday afternoon at Mariano’s in Bronzeville. The checkout lines are spilling into the aisles. The cash registers are constantly humming. The wine bar is SRO (standing room only) while a pianist plays Alicia Keys’ “No One” for a large crowd in the nearby lounge area.

One year after it bucked trends by opening a store in Bronzeville, Mariano’s—a chic national supermarket chain—is enjoying tremendous success in an area where few major chains dare to operate. The store is drawing shoppers from neighborhoods miles away. Now, the chain is about to give a special party for a store that has become an important place in the lives of thousands of Bronzeville residents and one that may have helped change the future of the predominantly Black neighborhood.

On the site of the former Ida B. Wells housing project is Mariano’s massive 74,800-sq. ft. store that has become more than just a store for thousands of shoppers. In the past 12 months, Mariano’s Bronzeville location has reaped big bucks, winning over customers—many who have never shopped at a Mariano’s before.  Shoppers are gulping down oysters, sushi, gelato, and other delicacies they’ve never tried before.

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(Photo by Erick Johnson)

After months of hype and anticipation, Mariano’s threw open its doors and hopes were high. A job fair at nearby Holy Angels Church attracted 1,000 applicants who came to apply for 400 jobs.  In the end, many of the newly-minted Mariano’s employees were Black, including the store managers.

With its wide selection of items, product specials and unique food and beverage departments, the store has become a runaway hit with customers shopping there several times a week.  Its upbeat atmosphere has morphed the store into a social club, where the hip, after-business-hours crowd meets up at the bar, while singles congregate in the lounge or the sushi bar.

In a short time, Mariano’s has changed the flavor and culture of Bronzeville—a neighborhood that, for years, lacked certain amenities, like places to eat, socialize and shop for quality foods and services which are found in more affluent neighborhoods. For many customers, Mariano’s has proven to be a one-stop shop that fulfills all those needs. While some point to Mariano’s success as another sign of gentrification, many are praising the store’s ability to meet the needs of the neighborhood in so many ways.

SAMPLES FROM MARIANOSThis weekend, many will join Mariano’s as the store marks its one-year anniversary with “Taste of Mariano’s” a two-day celebration featuring special discounts, food samples, wine tastings, book signing, and kids’ activities. WVON will broadcast live from the store.

Chicago’s Black media outlets will join the celebration. In July, following a series of intense meetings with Chicago’s Black Press, Mariano’s launched an unprecedented six-month advertising campaign with The Chicago Crusader, The Chicago Defender, The Chicago Citizen, N’DIGO AND WVON.

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(Photo by Erick Johnson)

With its polished image and Bronzeville’s struggling neighborhoods, there were doubts if Mariano’s was affordable and a good fit.  Like many chic supermarkets, Mariano’s often operated its stores in affluent and middle-class neighborhoods where most residents were white.

But the time was right. Whole Foods was preparing to open a store in Englewood, and Bronzeville was showing some signs of life. Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) kept pushing Mariano’s to open a store in her ward. The city spent $2.1 million of tax increment financing funds on road and signal improvements to improve access to the Mariano’s store and relieve traffic on Pershing Road.

BBQFounded in the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights in 2010, Mariano’s has 156 stores across America. Its big aisles, wide selection of foods and specialty departments have often dwarfed rival supermarkets that have dominated the market for years.

Located just over a mile south of Jewel-Osco in the Lake Meadows shopping center, Mariano’s Bronzeville store has provided stiff completion for shoppers who crave quality products and goods.

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(Photo by Erick Johnson)

While Mariano’s Bronzeville remains an ultra-popular supermarket, one manager said the store is not its most profitable. He declined to give exact figures, but its parent company, Milwaukee-based Roundy’s, generated nearly $3 billion in revenues in 2015, according to its latest filings with the U.S. Security and Exchange Commission.

Carolyn Ross, 74, moved to Bronzeville in September. Every week, she walks to Mariano’s from her apartment on 41st & King Drive. When she lived near Old Town, she caught the bus to shop at the store. A big fan of Mariano’s, she came to the grand opening last year to be part of the celebration.

“I’ve seen it grow from few customers to overcrowded. People are finding out that this is not really about these big stores coming here and gentrifying neighborhood. This store is the better things to come.”

Roundy’s, which owns Pick and Save and several other supermarket chains, did not list Mariano’s earnings in its SEC filings.









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