New supermarket may end food travails in Bronzeville

Bronzeville resident Kerry Kahill stands at the corner of State and 35th Streets and points.
 
“There are no grocery stores on this street, which I think is really weird,” she says.
 
Cahill, an actress, says she typically shops at a Whole Foods store four miles away.
 
Research bears out her point -- parts of the South Side, including Bronzeville, have been labeled "food deserts" because of the lack of supermarkets and other food sources.
 
But that’s about to change, thanks to Robert Mariano.
 
Mariano, a former Dominick’s CEO, is now running Milwaukee-based Roundy’s, and is planning to bring the grocer to Chicago, starting with a Bronzeville location.
 
Roundy's signed a letter of intent last fall to occupy the footprint of the former Stateway Gardens housing development on 39th and State streets.
 
Vivian King, director of public affairs for Roundy's, says the dearth of groceries in Bronzeville was one of the main reasons for building there.
 
"Bronzeville is very attractive to us because it is an underserved area," says King. "It's an area that is really clamoring for a grocery store, really seeking a grocery store, and we think that's a good fit for us."
 
The store is part of Roundy's expansion plan that calls for the opening of 15-25 stores in the Chicago area over the next few years.
 
King says the company has signed leases at three locations, including Bronzeville. Stores in Lake Shore East, near Millennium Park, and at 1515 N. Halsted, the site of the former New City YMCA, are planned as well. All the stores are expected to open in 2010, King says.

The move represents a homecoming for Mariano, who was based here when he ran Dominick's.
 
"He loves Chicago and he wants to bring our brand to Chicago," says King.
 
Alderman Pat Dowell, whose 3rd Ward will house the grocery store, said the presence of the grocery store will benefit the community.

“This is an important milestone for the residents of the 3rd Ward,” she says. “The 3rd Ward will no longer be a food desert. Now the community will have a full-service grocery store, which will create jobs for local residents.”

The food desert problem is more than just a convenience issue. It has health impacts, too.
 
Those living in food deserts has a strong correlation with contracting diet-related diseases, according to a study by the Mari Gallagher Research and Consulting Group, which specializes in community and economic research.
 
"Communities that are out of balance regarding healthy food options will likely have increased premature death and chronic health conditions," the study says.
 
On average, African Americans living in Chicago live an average distance of .77 miles away from the nearest chain grocer. The city average is .65 miles.
 
Rawan Abbasi, a third year student at IIT, has first-hand experience with the problem. During her freshman year, she didn't have a car.
 
“I’d take the train to the grocery store,” says Abbasi. “It would really limit what I could buy."
 
The new Roundy's would be four blocks from her home and job.
 
The grocery chain also has a track record of charitable giving in the areas around its stores, which could benefit nonprofits and community groups in Bronzeville.

~ Daily News Staff Writer Alex Parker contributed to this report

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