Grocery shopping used to be a ritual.
Every Tuesday, when my dad got paid, he would gather up his two oldest daughters and go a couple of blocks to the neighborhood A&P.
It was the only grocery store I remember. Forget about comparison-shopping. My dad bought whatever was on sale that week. We were loyal A&P customers.
But despite our loyalty and the myriad large families that lived in the CHA high-rise buildings in the area, our A&P closed, ushering in a trend that ultimately gave birth to the term “food desert.”
So when Dominick’s closed its doors in the Jeffery Plaza five years ago, South Shore was adamant about wanting an upscale grocery store to replace it.
Nothing against other chains, but Hyde Park had a Whole Foods and a Treasure Island. When Treasure Island closed, it didn’t take long before Trader Joe’s stepped up to fill the vacancy.
But the shuttered Dominick’s on 71st Street stayed empty long enough to become an eyesore in the community and a sore spot for Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) who was hammered over this issue.
And it was especially troublesome for former Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who had brought together the heads of major grocery chains to address the food desert problem early in his administration.
That summit ultimately led to a Whole Foods in the Englewood Square Mall, a Jewel-Osco in Woodlawn and a Mariano’s in Bronzeville.
So it goes without saying there was jubilation on all sides last Wednesday when Hairston cut the ribbon to a new 20,000-square-foot Shop & Save “Local Market” in South Shore.
But as Emanuel pointed out in an interview last week, getting the store’s doors open was tough, but keeping them open will be just as challenging.
“This is just the beginning of the struggle, now we are in Chapter 2,” he said.
Residents “should now shop with the same kind of verve in which they advocated for a store and the store will prosper,” he said.
I drove past the shiny new Local Market on opening day, and the line of shoppers stretched from the door to the outside of the strip mall and around the corner.
But that’s primarily because the store was giving away a free bag of groceries to the first 500 people who showed up.
Things had calmed down on Friday when I stopped by to shop for Sunday’s dinner.
“What do you think?” a man asked as I put my bag of groceries into the trunk of my car.
Besides having a super-large area for fresh food and produce (30 percent of the floor space is dedicated to fresh food and produce), the store had a noticeably diverse staff and carried everything from collard greens to bok choy.
“Really nice. They did a fine job,” I said.
“That’s good to hear. I’m just curious,” he said.
Still, it remains to be seen whether the people who advocated for an “upscale” grocery store will stop driving to Hyde Park to shop.
After all, brand loyalty is pretty powerful.
The New York Times recently reported that a study of shopping behavior in a neighborhood located in a food desert found that just providing a store where residents could easily buy fresh food didn’t necessarily mean they would do so.
“The cost of food — and people’s habits of shopping and eating — appear to be much more powerful than just convenience,” the Times reported.
So the ribbon cutting was only the beginning.
Now it is up to the residents of South Shore to keep the store’s doors open.
To that end, we need to remember what a new grocery store in South Shore is really all about.
“It is not so much about a grocery store as it is about respect,” Emanuel said.
“It sends a message to those that said: not that neighborhood, not that zip code, not those people, that you are making a bad bet,” Emanuel said.
“Those residents [in struggling neighborhoods] don’t want Tier II stores. They want a classy grocery store just like everybody else. This successful store will make it much easier to put a healthy grocery option in every part of the city,” he said.
Let the ritual begin.