Discount grocery store chain Sav-A-Lot opened five new stores on the South Side last week and has plans to open 30 more stores over the next four years in an effort, it says, to address food deserts in underserved communities.

Discount grocery store chain Sav-A-Lot opened five new stores on the South Side last week and has plans to open 30 more stores over the next four years in an effort, it says, to address food deserts in underserved communities. Save-A-Lot increased its Chicago presence to 13 stores with the recent openings. The new stores are located at 8240 S. Stony Island Ave., 148 W. 79th St., 344 E. 63rd St., 6858 S. Aberdeen St., and 6701 S. Western Ave. Nationally, Save-A-Lot has 1,300 stores in 40 states and is owned by SUPERVALU Inc., which also owns Jewel, Cub Foods and Shop n’ Save. SUPERVALU Chief Executive Officer Craig Herkert added that the new South Side stores are just the beginning. “In Chicago there are 600,000 people living in food deserts. We believe Save-A-Lot can and will be a part of the solution,” Herkert said at the March 3 grand opening for its Stony Island Avenue store. Food deserts are created when there are no stores within a community that sell fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and other grocery items. “In many Black communities residents must travel upwards of 20 miles to reach a full-service grocery store,” said Sokoni Karanja, president and CEO, Centers for New Horizons, a non-profit social service organization in Chicago. Ronald Daly is a SUPERVALU board member and grew up on the West Side where food deserts also exist but where there is only one Save-A-Lot. “There are many Chicago communities suffering from food deserts including those on the West Side,” he told the Defender. “And I know there are plans to open more Chicago stores that will undoubtedly include West Side locations.” The Stony Island store is located in the 8th Ward, which is represented by Alderman Michelle Harris. “I want to thank Save-A-Lot for coming to the 8th Ward. The 8th Ward is not exempt from the food desert problem Chicagoans are facing,” Harris said. “I look forward to working with Save-A-Lot as we tackle this problem head on.” The grocer’s preference when opening stores is to redevelop an existing building rather than new construction. “It certainly makes a difference cost-wise if you can move into an existing building rather than build from the ground up,” said Bill Shaner, CEO of Save-A-Lot, who declined to say how much a typical store costs to open. “The reason we opened five stores simultaneously on the South Side was due to opportunities that allowed us to do so.” During the March 3 grand opening Shaner presented a $25,000 check to Kate Maehr, executive director of the Greater Chicago Food Depository, to assist the organization’s effort to feed the needy, which she said is increasingly becoming the Black, middle-class. “Last year 496,000 people were fed by food pantries. Call it what you want but this is the worst of times and the best of times,” Maehr said. Acknowledging that discount grocery chain ALDI is its biggest competitor in Chicago, Shaner added that it considers “anybody that sells food a competitor.” Local businessmen, including Reggio’s Pizza Inc. CEO John Clark Jr., attended the March 3 grand opening along with elected officials Ald. Latasha Thomas (17th Ward) and Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel, who will be sworn into office May 16. “I plan to meet with all major grocery store owners to see how we can address food deserts,” Emanuel said. “This store (Stony Island) was once a red light to economic development because it sat empty but today it is a green light.” In a written statement, U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-2nd Dist., said the new stores are needed on the South Side. “We have a lack of grocery options in our communities, and I’m hopeful that these new stores will provide better access to fruits, vegetables and nutritious foods,” he said. “ I hope this means that some of our food deserts will become oases of nutrition.” The store employs 20 community residents and since its opening fresh produce and frozen vegetables are among the items most sought by customers, said Joe Davis, who manages the Stony Island Save-A-Lot. “There has been a steady flow of customers coming through so that alone let’s us know this store at this location was in great need,” he said. Henry Davis, who lives near the Stony Island store in the Avalon Park community, echoed that sentiment. He no longer has to catch the bus to Jewel at 95th Street and Stony Island Avenue to do grocery shopping. “I can walk here to do my shopping. No more lugging groceries on the bus,” Davis said. “This community needed a store that sells fresh produce and meats. This store is a blessing.” No more going outside the community to shop for resident Roberta Banks. “Even though I drive I’d rather shop in my neighborhood, especially if the prices are reasonable, which they are at Save-A-Lot,” she said. “And look at this store. It is simply beautiful.” Copyright 2011 Chicago Defender

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