The corner grocery store has been a part of Chicago since the inception of the city. Ask any Chicagoan and they can tell you stories about going to Mr. and Mrs. Jones corner store for their parents and grandparents.
The neighborhood grocer was respected in the community and took pride in the products he offered as he consumed these products as well.
Unfortunately, the corporate grocery store took over and made it economically infeasible for most small grocers to operate. When the corporate stores decided to exit the communities, the corporate convenience store, which focused more on junk food and other items than food, arrived. The corporate convenience store went the same route as the corporate grocery store and exited the community.
The Chatham community was fortunate and unique in the fact that the small grocer and larger corporate stores were able to coexist. Stores such as Chatham Foods and Food Basket were able to hold their own against larger stores such as Jewel and Dominick's. Their success also attracted some others who did not care about what they sold: dollar stores, gas station convenience marts and other grocers.
Some of these stores sold outdated merchandise and low quality items. Some have also been alleged to be fronts for illegal activities. Many residents dislike these type of stores because they tend to attract younger buyer and people who are unemployed or are on fixed incomes.
Very soon a new grocery store will open up with plans to erase the stigma of the corner grocery store. Louis' Groceries, located at 7604 S. Cottage Grove, will serve residents of Park Manor, Chatham and Grand Crossing.
The store came about because several entrepreneurs and community activists were frustrated with the "food desert" dilemma that is impacting the city and suburbs.
The group of individuals decided to form a not-for-profit organization and open a grocery store that would be a model that could be duplicated in other parts of the city.
Louis' Groceries mission per the website is as follows:
- Supply residents with fresh fruits and vegetables, along with other nutritious items, which are currently not readily available;
- Develop a business model to share with other neighborhood stores for successfully retailing produce on a small scale in underserved communities;
- Learn about individuals' food choices, and encourage healthier food consumption through in-store educational programming and promotions and incentives.
The store plans to carry a variety of fruits and vegetables, fresh meats and nutritional snacks. Unlike most convenience stores, the fruits and vegetables will be prominently displayed as you enter the store versus being inundated with potato chips and other junk food items.
Louis' is also working with local urban farms to source seasonal and specialty fruits and vegetables. It will initially have items from the Gary Comer Youth Center Urban garden.
The small format only allows the store to carry basic staples that most families eat. The store is stocking both premium and value brand items, which allows residents on fixed incomes to have access to decent products.
Also, a major component is the demonstration kitchen ad classroom. The kitchen is equipped with a standard household range and oven to demonstrate that the recipe and ideas being prepared can be done at home.
Chef Ramona Baptiste, the operator of Chef in the Hood, and the University of Illinois Extension will kick off these demonstrations by offering nutrition classes. The demonstration kitchen also serves as a classroom and meeting space.
Louis' Groceries will have assistance from professors and research professionals from the University of Chicago. These professors will analyze food choices as it relates to healthy eating.
The store is open and general manager Terri Zhu and her staff are looking forward to meeting and serving the community.