Chicago mayor proposes city-owned grocery stores as Walmart, Whole Foods exits leave ‘food deserts’
Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson said he wants to open city-owned grocery stores to serve neighborhoods that have become “food deserts” after four Walmart stores and a Whole Foods closed.
Johnson announced last week that his administration would partner with the nonprofit advocacy group Economic Security Project to put stores in underserved areas of the city — a proposal Republicans called something out of “Soviet-style central planning.“
Four other Chicago Walmarts are still open, which the chain said in a statement “continue to face the same business difficulties, but we think this decision gives us the best chance to help keep them open and serving the community.”
When The Post reached out to Walmart for comment, a company spokesperson pointed to the April press release, which said “that collectively our Chicago stores have not been profitable since we opened the first one nearly 17 years ago.”
Last November, Whole Foods closed in Englewood after six years in the South Side lot — one year before Whole Foods’ seven-year lease was up with its landlord, DL3 Realty.
The location boasted very affordable prices for the grocer’s infamously-overpriced organic goods.
However, as the years went on, items at the Englewood Whole Foods became too expensive for the neighborhood’s residents, and the store was often empty at peak shopping times, like Saturdays, according to local outlet Block Chicago.
Whole Foods’ lot has sat empty for nearly one year. Low-priced grocery store Save A Lot is reportedly next in line to fill the space, though it likely won’t open until Whole Foods’ lease is up, and Englewood residents are concerned that it won’t offer the same types of healthy options.
The Post has sought comment from Whole Foods.
Only time will tell if a government-owned grocery store would fill the vacant lot instead, though Johnson’s administration still reportedly needs to conduct a feasibility study before providing a timeline of actually opening these stores.
“In the coming weeks, we will be taking a much closer look at the challenges we face, and how we will address those challenges reasonably and responsibly, and not on the backs of workers and working families,” Johnson said in a press release on Wednesday.
Representatives for the Chicago Mayor and the Economic Security Project did not immediately respond to The Post’s request for comment.
Republican politicians in the Democrat-run Windy City blasted the plan as something out of “Soviet-style central planning.”
“Take all the problems private chains face in low-income areas, then add in amateur management by a bureaucracy, Chicago-style political corruption in hiring and contracting, and a limited range of products,” said Steve Boulton, the chairman of the Chicago Republican Party.
“Private chains should just pull out of all the neighborhoods, because the city stores will have better police protection and lower prices subsidized by the long-suffering Chicago taxpayer.”
“Food deserts do exist in Chicago neighborhoods, but the answer is promoting capitalist prosperity and stopping crime, not injecting more socialist dependency,” Boulton added.
Neither Walmart nor Whole Foods disclosed exactly why they suffered continued losses over the years.
One explanation could be the shoplifting epidemic taking over America, which has seen retailers struggling to cope with the consequence-less pilfering, stripping them of revenue that’s also led to the closure of a “landmark” grocery store in Baltimore that shut its doors after nearly 25 years.
Experts have blamed the surge on lax policies — including the passage of Prop 47 in California, which reduced theft from a potential felony to a misdemeanor — as well as calls to defund the police in 2020 following the murder of George Floyd, which resulted in a mass exodus of cops nationwide.
There’s no nationwide policy on how to deal with shoplifting, though many employers have encouraged staffers to do nothing at all in an effort to keep them out of harm’s way.
Just this month 49-year-old Michael Jacobs, a CVS operations manager in Mesa, Ariz., was killed on the job by Jared Sevey, 39, who was suspected of shoplifting, police say.
The atmosphere has made retail-laden cities like New York, San Francisco and Chicago a “shoplifter’s paradise.”
According to the Chicago Police Department, thefts are up 25% to-date year over year. Robberies are up 11%.
And in April, a 26-year-old Home Depot employee was fatally shot after confronting a woman attempting to steal from the home improvement retailer’s Pleasanton store, located in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Just days earlier, a pregnant shoplifter at a Walgreens in Nashville was shot by a staffer following a confrontation over stolen merchandise that resulted in an exchange of Mace and bullets.