Englewood Residents Didn’t Want Save A Lot to Replace Whole Foods, But Lease Shows It Was Always a Backup Plan

After Whole Foods announced its plans to shutter its once touted Englewood location in April 2022, neighbors have been vocal about wanting a say in what retailer would take over the grocery store space at 63rd and Halsted streets.

One message was clear: Many community leaders and residents who spoke out at public meetings didn’t want to see discount grocer Save A Lot move in, citing its limited options and poor reputation among many Chicagoans. Despite that outcry, Save A Lot operator Yellow Banana has been announced as the new tenant in the grocery store space.

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But a copy of the lease between Whole Foods and property owner DL3 Realty obtained by WTTW News shows that Save A Lot was a fallback plan from the get-go.

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That lease agreement spells out what happens if Whole Foods decided to close shop. The deal gives right of first refusal to replace the high-end grocer or find another tenant to a now-dissolved company that once operated a Save A Lot store in Roseland. The dissolved company was run by the head of DL3, Leon Walker.

Walker’s former business, known as Saver’s Fresh Market, was licensed by the city to run the Roseland Save A Lot from 2012 to 2016. After that, records show the store’s license was held by Save A Lot’s parent company.

Late last year, city officials announced the Roseland location, along with several other Save A Lots, would get $13.5 million in TIF funding from the city for repairs and rehab.

The company rehabbing and running those stores is Yellow Banana, the same firm now slated to take over the former Whole Foods in Englewood.

More: Read the full Whole Foods lease agreement. 

Walker told WTTW News neither he nor DL3 have a financial or business relation with Yellow Banana, and that the decision to bring that firm to Englewood was entirely between Yellow Banana and Whole Foods.

“I know Whole Foods had an aggressive effort to canvass the market and talk to a lot of other retailers, but … it’s a small format store in a community where the population has generally declined, and in an overall grocery environment that is under tremendous pressure,” Walker said.

Asked to comment about the provision of the lease giving right of first refusal to his closed company that once ran a Save A Lot, Walker declined to comment, saying the lease with Whole Foods was confidential.

The ordinance approving the sale of formerly city-owned land to Walker’s real estate development company so that it could develop Englewood Square required DL3 to submit the lease with Whole Foods to the city, making the document a matter of public record.

Speaking generally about the lease with Whole Foods, Walker said, “Our primary concern was that they didn’t change the use” from grocery to another kind of store.

Read More: Englewood Residents Overwhelmingly Back Reopening Racine Green Line Station. CTA Says It’s ‘Fully Committed’ to the Idea

Asiaha Butler of the Resident Association of Greater Englewood has been campaigning to bring a retailer other than Save A Lot to the space. Told of the provision in the original lease, she said, “That’s not surprising, but it is disturbing.”

“That is what we thought, and we wanted to see that in writing,” Butler said. “We have been told several times … that wasn’t the case.”

“This information was never told to our community,” said 16th Ward Ald. Stephanie Coleman, who has also pushed back against Save A Lot moving into Englewood.

Coleman said she doesn’t begrudge communities where Yellow Banana got city money to rehab or reopen Save A Lot stores.

“God bless the preexisting grocery stores,” Coleman said. “They should have that investment.”

But she expressed concern that Yellow Banana has “yet to show us what they can do, because they don’t have a model. Englewood is not a guinea pig. We are not an experiment.”

In addition to TIF funding aimed at rehabbing the six Save A Lots on the South and West sides, Yellow Banana in February was awarded a $4.9 million grant from the city to help with construction of a new Save A Lot in the Riverdale neighborhood.

Walker acknowledged that Save A Lot taking over the Whole Foods space is “a reversal in terms of perception about what these two different retailers represent … but there was limited selection and limited availability of other operators that could fit this size of store, which is a small format.”

He said the extensive work Whole Foods did to build out the store will still be a boon to the community and to the new grocer.

“I’m holding on to hope that they’re not only going to meet but exceed expectations in this location,” Walker said. “And if they don’t, the market will give them information and feedback.”

But Butler and Coleman expressed disappointment over what they said is a lack of transparency, both about the terms of the original deal that gave Save A Lot a leg up and about the current process of replacing Whole Foods.

Coleman stressed the importance of having quality grocery options in an area that’s been considered a food desert — and touted the one-year anniversary of the Go Green Community Fresh Market at 63rd Street and Racine Avenue on Friday.

“Those are investments … that I am advocating and fighting for at City Hall,” Coleman said.

Syed said the market is “a platform for local food entrepreneurs, it’s a driver of health outcomes, and it’s about building resilient food ecosystems.”

The market — which is a partnership between IMAN, E.G. Woode, R.A.G.E. and Teamwork Englewood — is one part of the Go Green on Racine effort that also includes a campaign to reopen the long-shuttered Racine Green Line station and repurpose the nearby Granville T. Woods Academy, which CPS closed a decade ago.

“It’s really about putting in concentrated investment in a small geography and really bringing about economic revitalization,” Syed said.

R.A.G.E.’s Butler said community surveys have shown resident interest in a number of grocery stores other than high-end Whole Foods and discount Save A Lot. And she’s found the new operator, Yellow Banana, difficult to build trust with.

“Is the ink dry? Is it a possibility to revisit the lease?” Butler asked. “If that is not able to happen and it moves forward, I think a lot of folks want to boycott it.”

Yellow Banana did not respond to a request for comment.

Note: This story was update with a link to the lease agreement. 

Community Reporting Series

“Chicago Tonight” is expanding its community reporting. We’re hitting the streets to speak with your neighbors, local businesses, agencies and leaders about COVID-19, the economy, racial justice, education and more. See where we’ve been and what we’ve learned by using the map below. Or select a community using the drop-down menu. Points in red represent our series COVID-19 Across Chicago; blue marks our series “Chicago Tonight” in Your Neighborhood.

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