It’s been a year since Whole Foods made the surprise announcement it was shutting down its Englewood location at 63rd and Halsted streets.
The store has been the site of controversy since it was announced that Save A Lot operator Yellow Banana was taking over the lease — angering residents and community leaders opposed to a Save A Lot who said their voices weren’t heard.
“We do not want Save A Lot, Yellow Banana, nor Whole Foods — or whoever has that lease — to be here,” said Resident Association of Greater Englewood’s Asiaha Butler outside a demonstration earlier this month that delayed the store’s soft opening.
But Yellow Banana CEO Joe Canfield said they’re proud of the store.
“I don’t expect, nor would I ask, anyone to trust us,” Canfield said. “We just want to open the doors and have people come experience this Englewood location, because it is a gorgeous location.”
Michael Nance is one of the cofounders of Yellow Banana, a majority-Black owned company that runs 38 Save A Lots across five states.
“What we’ve tried to make our calling card is to go into localities that other people won’t go into,” Nance said.
A native of Cleveland’s East Side, Nance said he knows what it’s like to grow up with parents struggling to get by.
“We shopped at a local Save A Lot in our neighborhood, so I was familiar with the store and understood that it had suffered from a lack of investment over a number of years,” Nance said.
Nance said Whole Foods approached his company last spring about taking over the space in Englewood.
“Based on the lease terms that were there, it didn’t work with our model,” Nance said. “Whole Foods went and shopped the deal to other folks … and no one bit.”
Whole Foods and Yellow Banana eventually struck a deal this past fall. People opposed to the deal often cited the poor reputation of Save A Lot among Black Chicagoans, saying many stores were in disrepair and had a poor selection.
“I understand why people have the perceptions that they have about Save A Lot, and I don’t think they’re unfounded,” Canfield said. “The same reason people have those perceptions is the same way we’re going turn the tide, by showing people what the experience is like.”
Canfield and Nance said customers can expect fresh cut meat, local produce and some name-brand products in their stores.
And because of the store’s build-out and what Whole Foods left behind — like a bakery, a hot food bar and a coffee bar — the Englewood location gives Yellow Banana a chance to pilot a new model.
“We’ve offered those spaces out to local entrepreneurs,” Canfield said.
Englewood isn’t Yellow Banana’s first Chicago venture. In late 2021, the company took over six Save A Lots on the South and West sides, as new Save A Lot leadership was selling off locations to focus on wholesaling.
“We recognize that even under our watch for the last year and a half, the physical condition of these stores has been really subpar,” Canfield said.
Yellow Banana just closed on those stores’ real estate itself. About half of the $26 million deal came through TIF money.
Now that Yellow Banana owns the properties, it plans to rehab the stores and reopen a closed Auburn Gresham location over the next year or so.
“These are going to be brand new stores when we’re done with them, so we’re really excited about that,” Canfield said.
As for the Englewood location, co-founder Nance said facing protests and pushback has sometimes been frustrating.
“We would love to have a good working relationship with Englewood stakeholders and leadership,” Nance said. “That’s important to us. What’s more important is providing groceries in this community.”
But company leaders said they’re hopeful they can improve their relationship with residents.
“I wish that things had started off differently here in Englewood,” Canfield said. “I wish I knew (what I know) now back in January … and we would have handled things differently and tried to be as accommodating as possible. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t forge a good relationship going forward.”
This week, Save A Lot’s CEO and CFO met with Ald. Stephanie Coleman (16th Ward) in an effort to start that process.
Yellow Banana leaders said they don’t yet have a firm timeline for a soft opening or grand opening.
“I’ve been very consistent that we want to get the doors open as fast as possible,” Canfield said. “You have to treat people with dignity, with respect, offer them quality products in a neat, well-stocked, well-kept store, and that’s what we’re going to do.”