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Feeling grocery envy after trip to Mariano’s

Updated: January 9, 2014 6:47AM



I try to make it a habit to shop in my neighborhood even when it costs me a few extra

bucks.

After all, if you don’t support the businesses that are open, then there’s no point in complaining about the vacant storefronts.

But Friday, I made an exception to my rule by driving to the South Loop to shop at Mariano’s.

Frankly, I wanted to see for myself what consumers in South Shore would be missing since Bob Mariano, the CEO of Roundy’s, Inc., took a pass on purchasing the soon-to-be shuttered Dominick’s in my neighborhood.

One has to assume that Mariano’s decision is based on sound business judgment. He has successfully managed to compete with other top-tier grocers, opening up 13 stores in the region in just a few years.

Still, it bothers me that getting an upscale store like Mariano to come South of 35th is still a hard sell.

That’s surprising given the national attention that has been paid to “food deserts.”

I pulled into the parking lot at 1615 S. Clark around 8:30 a.m. and could get any parking space I wanted. The first thing that caught my eye was the “Squeezed Juice and Smoothies” counter.

Nice.

I leisurely pushed my cart through the produce aisle; happy to see prices that were comparable to the prices I’m used to paying at Dominick’s.

Ninety-nine cents a pound for collard greens that look like they will last a couple of days in the fridge isn’t bad.

If you regularly shop at upscale stores, you aren’t likely to be so easily impressed.

But the sight of small cafes where customers were sipping coffee, fully stocked salad and hot food bars, and a sushi bar was enough to make me forget to stick to my grocery list.

According to my receipt, I saved a paltry $3.22 on my items. But that didn’t matter. A nice young woman with a smile on her face helped me unload my cart.

Although the employees who are being displaced by Dominick’s demise will have to reapply for their jobs at the stores purchased by Mariano, those are real jobs that will be filled.

And it can’t be overlooked that Mariano has given a lot of young people credible work experience.

For instance, the young woman helping me lives in an area of the city where retail jobs are scarce.

Mariano has agreed to buy Dominick’s stores in Chicago located at 2021 W. Chicago Ave., 3145 S. Ashland Ave., and 5201 N. Sheridan Rd.

Overall, the upscale grocer will snap up 11 stores in the region. Last week, NBC 5 reported that would probably be it.

Roundy’s Inc could not be reached for comment late Friday.

Frankly, I’m jealous.

People in South Shore like to shop in fancy stores, too. But we are forced to take our dollars outside of the community just to enjoy the same shopping amenities that other consumers take for granted.

As noted by Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) in a recent letter to residents in her ward, shoppers from Hyde Park, South Shore, Pill Hill, and Chatham make up Dominick’s customers.

“Considering the area’s demographics of students, workers, seniors, homeowners and renters, the 5th Ward should have its choice of grocers vying to receive our dollars,” Hairston said.

Hairston also said she has been in communication with senior management of one major food store chain.

Time is of the essence.

For 20 years, this Dominick’s store has been the anchor in Jeffrey Plaza, a strip mall that is the gateway to South Shore.

The vacant grocery store will make it harder for the surrounding businesses to stay afloat.

As for Mariano’s snub, it is a reminder that when it comes to the South Side, business owners may still have on blinders.

Email: marym@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MaryMitchellCST



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