South Side aldermen gathered outside a shuttered Aldi in Auburn Gresham for a news conference Thursday, where they slammed the company for leaving the neighborhood abruptly and called for a hearing to address grocery store closures and food access in Chicago.
“It’s about discrimination,” said Ald. David Moore, whose 17th Ward includes the former Auburn Gresham store, which was located at 7627 S. Ashland Ave.
Aldi closed its Auburn Gresham store on June 12. Elected officials and neighborhood residents say they were given no notice of the closure.
On Thursday, the store was boarded up and the parking lot was gated off. As officials spoke to reporters, a man walking by called out: “We need Aldi’s.”
The store is the latest grocery store on the South and West sides to close, a pattern affecting neighborhoods that have long struggled with access to healthy and affordable food. In late April, Whole Foods announced it was closing its store in Englewood that opened to great fanfare in 2016 with the help of $10.7 million in city funding.
Last year, Aldi shuttered a grocery store in West Garfield Park. Earlier this year, aldermen authorized the city to purchase that property for $700,000.
“It is unfair. This is not acceptable, especially in communities like Englewood, like Auburn Gresham, like Chicago Lawn,” Ald. Stephanie Coleman, 16th, said Thursday.
Coleman’s ward includes the Englewood Whole Foods, and she said Thursday she had still not heard of a closure date for the store. Whole Foods did not respond to a question about when the store would close. When Whole Foods leaves, the city’s sale agreement with the site developer requires a new grocery store to be up and running within 18 months.
“We are saying that if you want to do business with the city of Chicago, you’ve got to do right by all of Chicago,” Coleman said.
Aldi has cited “repeated burglaries” and declining sales as its rationale for closing the Auburn Gresham store.
“We do not take the closing of this location lightly,” the company said in a statement this week.
“Out of concern for our employees and customers, keeping this store open was no longer a sustainable option. All of our employees have been given the option to continue working at one of our other Aldi locations in the immediate area,” the statement read.
As of last week, there have been no reported burglaries on the 7600 block of South Ashland Avenue so far this year, according to the city’s crime data portal. There were seven burglaries on the block within the last five years, only two of which took place at a grocery store. The most recent reported burglary on the block took place in September.
Aldi did not respond to a request for comment on the city’s burglary numbers earlier this week.
On Thursday, Moore slammed Aldi’s crime rationale for the closure.
“I’d like for lies to be cleared up,” Moore said. He said his office had a meeting scheduled with Aldi management next week.
“When you talk about you’ve been robbed, why wasn’t I contacted? When did these robberies happen? And I want to see police reports to the number of robberies,” he said. Moore said he planned to ask the company what it would take to get it to stay in the neighborhood.
In the City Council Wednesday, Ald. Raymond Lopez, 15th, introduced a resolution calling for the Committee on Economic, Capital and Technology Development to hold a hearing to “examine the failure of city of Chicago food access policies to meet the needs of its underserved residents.” Forty aldermen signed onto the resolution.
Lopez said Thursday that it should not be up to individual aldermen to handle grocery store closures.
“The city of Chicago needs to have a consistent policy to handle this, and it does not,” he said. “We bounce from crisis to crisis, trying to figure it out.”
Meanwhile, community organizations in neighborhoods that struggle with access to food are working hard in their attempts to fill in the gaps.
At Thursday’s news conference, Cecile DeMello, executive director of the nonprofit Teamwork Englewood, noted the Go Green Community Fresh Market on 63rd Street, which the nonprofit Inner-City Muslim Action Network opened in March, as one example. She also called attention to Growing Home, an urban farm in West Englewood.
DeMello said that in addition to accountability for grocers, there needs to be support for local initiatives working to increase access to healthy food.
“It has to be both corporate as well as local, Black and brown-owned businesses that have loyalty and commitment to servicing the people of this community,” she said.