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Park Forest and Richton Park officials hope to attract grocery stores

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Richton Park Mayor Rick Reinbold said he learned the Save Money grocery store was closed when he saw the signs at the main entrance when he went shopping.

“There was a notice on the window saying they were closing,” Reinbold said. “I would say I’m there at least once a week. “It was a very convenient place.”

Save-A-Lot, 3736 Sauk Trail, is closed Friday. Signs on the door encourage customers to visit Save-A-Lot at 3310 Chicago Road in Chicago Heights.

In Richton Park and Park Forest, officials say they are grappling with how to attract grocery stores. With Save-A-Lot closing, they want another grocery store to move into the area.

Elise Ziemann, who has lived in Park Forest for 20 years, said she was sad about Save-A-Lot’s closing because there was no grocery store in Park Forest and Save-A-Lot was closest to her home.

Ziemann, whose partner is Ben Armstrong traveling on his bike Those who go to the market because they do not have reliable transportation facilities said that there is a need for a grocery store in the area that sells fresh food and is accessible to residents without vehicles.

“We want to go shopping in our town and support our town,” Ziemann said. “We need a grocery store. We need a convenient store in the area.”

Save-A-Lot opened in Richton Park 17 years ago and was a 15,000-square-foot facility that included a 30,000-square-foot commercial strip, according to a village news release.

Owner Allen Enayatian said Yellow Banana took over the Save-A-Lot chain in 2021. He said Yellow Banana decided to close the Richton Park location due to property taxes.

Cook County developed a program last year that would give grocery store owners property tax breaks if their stores are located in a food desert, Reinbold said. Village officials told Yellow Banana about this program but said village owners did not benefit from it.

“Unfortunately, they never followed through on that. This particular program required them to invest in the store, but it would have helped significantly from a property tax standpoint,” Reinbold said.

The Food Empowerment Project, a nonprofit organization focused on promoting healthy food choices, defines food deserts as areas where access to affordable, healthy food options is restricted or unavailable due to the lack of grocery stores within convenient travel distance.

“I would say we have a grocery store in town at the Walmart location, so we have that,” Reinbold said. “But unfortunately we don’t have access to grocery shopping on the east side of the city. “This area is a food desert, but we can get groceries at Walmart.”

Reinbold said village officials are optimistic that another grocery store will open in the Sav-A-Lot area.

“My staff is already talking to several specialty grocers who are interested,” Reinbold said. “There is some interest. It’s very early days, there’s no commitment yet, but we’re trying to connect the owner with parties interested in doing something.”

The site is located beneath the village’s downtown commercial and mixed-use district, Reinbold said. Village officials can only influence which businesses can open in the area if it requires a zoning change, he said.

Richton Park officials want a grocery store to move into the area because it’s close to many apartments where residents can easily walk to get groceries.

“I think it is very important that we have a grocery store. This place was probably a grocery store when it was built in the 60s. There have been a few grocery stores there since then,” Reinbold said.

Maintaining a grocery store in Park Forest is difficult, Mayor Joseph Woods said. Sterk’s Super Foods and Country Squire Foods have closed in recent years, he said.

A plan to open a grocery store in a barren 35,000-square-foot building on Orchard Drive was in the works for more than three years, but Jet Foods’ plan was never implemented.

Penny Shnay

Signs announcing the opening of Jet Foods in the 100 block of South Orchard Drive in Park Forest. (Penny Shnay)

Woods said when Sterk’s and Country Squire closed, village officials told them the stores in Park Forest were unsuitable because of low traffic. Woods said he believes this is a result of the village being isolated among the towns where the target businesses are located.

“This is a difficult situation because we believe we need a grocery store, two of our grocery stores have gone out of business, and corporate businesses are telling us that traffic numbers are low,” Woods said.

Park Forest officials are working to bring in larger businesses that will attract people and increase traffic at a potential grocery store, Woods said.

“It is challenging, but we will do our due diligence to engage with businesses and make them successful in Park Forest,” he said.

Woods said the closure of grocery stores like Save-A-Lot around Park Forest is disappointing because it expands the food desert and leaves fewer options for purchasing fresh food.

“The cruel irony is that as the African American population in the southern suburbs grows, so does the vast food desert affecting our communities,” Woods said. “It is unreasonable that residents of our communities are forced to travel long distances to shop for food, but residents of other areas have a wide variety of stores to choose from in their backyards.”

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