Englewood Save A Lot opens at former Whole Foods site without fanfare
One week after a contentious community meeting in Englewood, during which some residents said they did not want a Save A Lot store, the low-cost grocer opened without fanfare Thursday in the site of the former Whole Foods store that closed last fall.
The supermarket at 832 W. 63rd St. saw several hundred people visit in the first few hours, Yellow Banana CEO Joe Canfield told the Sun-Times on Thursday. Yellow Banana owns and operates stores under the Save A Lot name.
Joyce Smith and Glinda Smith (no relation), 73 and 71 respectively, live across the street from the new Save A Lot. The afternoon of the opening, both were busy filling their carts from the meat department.
“We’ve been waiting for this store to open,” Joyce Smith said.
“I love it so far,” Glinda Smith added.
The customers had only visited the former Whole Foods at the site once because of the cost, they said. They said they “didn’t like” the protesting against the store.
The planned opening — originally scheduled for April before it was scrapped — has led to a months-long conflict between South Side community members who complain about Save A Lot’s reputation and the company that operates 38 stores across the country.
At the May 3 community forum in Englewood, residents and local leaders met face to face with top officials from Yellow Banana and said that the planned Englewood store was “not on the table.” Speakers at the forum also complained about the company’s apparent lack of communication — which store officials disputed.
After getting the public feedback at the meeting — and apparently some from people who weren’t at the meeting, Canfield said — the company decided to open anyway.
“We’ve heard from a lot of other people who weren’t at the meeting but were a part of the Englewood community,” Canfield said. “We’ve heard a lot of folks say that they want an affordable grocer to buy healthy products at. We thought it was best to open the doors and let the community decide for themselves on how they felt about things.”
Canfield told the Sun-Times in April that the soft opening was postponed into order to “gain alignment” with the community and with Ald. Stephanie Coleman (16th).
“We want to win the community over, but we also want to be respectful of Alderman Coleman,” Canfield said at the time. “She was elected by the citizens of Englewood, and we want to be good corporate citizens.”
Coleman has stood with her constituents in pushing back against having the Save A Lot in her ward.
Coleman told the Sun-Times on Thursday she had learned the Save A Lot was in business around noon, several hours after it opened.
Asiaha Butler, founder of the Resident Association of Greater Englewood (R.A.G.E.), said Yellow Banana’s opening was a “slap in the face.”
“What we heard from them very clearly, after the (May 3) event, was that they were gonna go back to their team, take our feedback and that they were going to get back to us to even discuss a potential opening day or not,” she said.
Yellow Banana’s actions, Butler said, prove they “aren’t a good partner.”
“It’s once again just ... really confirmed everything we say about how this operator is not a friend to the Englewood community,” Butler said.
Butler and fellow leaders are discussing potential ideas on how to respond to the opening, which she said “blindsided” them.
Canfield says 20 people, all from Englewood, have been hired to work at the Save A Lot, and that local vendors will be added in the future, he said.
So far, feedback has been “surprising,” Canfield said.
“All that people have really said is thanks for opening the store — they’re happy we’re here,” he said. “We have comment cards up front … folks have just appreciated that we opened the store so that they can see for themselves.”
Mariah Rush is a staff reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South Side and West Side.