New Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson announced that the city is exploring the opening of municipally owned grocery stores to provide relief in longtime food deserts. The proposed venture is in partnership with the nonprofit Economic Security Project. “All Chicagoans deserve to live near convenient, affordable, healthy grocery options. We know access to grocery stores is already a challenge for many residents, especially on the South and West sides,” said Mayor Johnson. “A better, stronger, safer future is one where our youth and our communities have access to the tools and resources they need to thrive. My administration is committed to advancing innovative, whole-of-government approaches to address these inequities. I am proud to work alongside partners to take this step in envisioning what a municipally owned grocery store in Chicago could look like.” Ameya Pawar, Senior Advisor to the Economic Security Project added, “the City of Chicago is reimagining the role government can play in our lives by exploring a public option for grocery stores via a municipally owned grocery store and market. Not dissimilar from the way a library or the postal service operates, a public option offers economic choice and power to communities. A city-owned grocery store in the South or West side of Chicago would be a viable way to restore access to healthy food in areas that have suffered from historic and systemic disinvestment.” The official statement underlined the important role that grocery stores play in daily lives and in neighborhoods in general. “Grocery stores serve as anchors in communities by employing community members and acting as a catalytic business for nearby commercial activity,” the announcement declared.
In its announcement, the City of Chicago cited U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) statistics showing that 63.5% of residents in the West Englewood neighborhoods and 52% of those who live in the East Garfield Park community live more than a half mile from the nearest grocery store. The first step in the process is a feasibility study. Input will come from industry experts, community leaders and the Chicago Food Equity Council. The city plans to work with the State of Illinois for potential funding through the new Illinois Grocery Initiative which may provide up to $20 million in grants.