ROGERS PARK — The neighborhood's biggest independent grocers are eyeing what could soon be a "ghost town" on Howard Street.
The owners of Morse Market and Devon Market have both expressed interest in possibly expanding into the 70,000-square-foot Dominick's that anchors the Gateway Centre shopping plaza at Clark and Howard streets.
Safeway Inc., Dominick's parent company, announced this month it would exit the Chicago market by January, leaving the future of most of its 72 Chicago-area stores in jeopardy.
If another tenant doesn't step in to take over the location at the Gateway Centre, Rogers Park would be without a full-service grocery store.
"It's a good spot. I would take it if it made sense," said Shaul Basa, the owner of 13-year-old Devon Market. "I'll expand if I have the opportunity."
Basa said he'd already made some some calls to learn more about the Howard Street property.
Peter Kostopoulos, owner of Morse Market, also said he would be interested, but was hesitant to elaborate on business plans.
"It's really a business decision," he said. "We've been contacted by Dominick's."
But one thing was certain, he said, Morse Market is in "expansion mode."
Ald. Joe Moore (49th) has launched an effort alongside the property's management firm, Mid-America Asset Management Inc., to find a replacement tenant.
Moore wouldn't elaborate on discussions, but said in a newsletter to constituents that "a local independent grocer has expressed a strong interest in the location."
Desare Paige, 25, has worked for three years at Anna's Linens next to Dominick's in the plaza.
She heard from news reports that the supermarket would be closing.
"It's going to slow down business" if another tenant doesn't fill Dominick's shoes, she said. "It would have a great effect on" her store's business.
Other employees said they've heard "rumor and speculation" that a Trader Joe's or Mariano's taking over.
But employee Bobbi Carr says it's unlikely.
Trader Joe's or Mariano's are "way too upscale." the 38-year-old said while working the counter at a shoe and clothing store in the plaza last week.
She said the news "was a shocker." And if she could have her way, she'd want a Target to replace Dominick's.
Michelle Peterson was shopping at the grocery store last week. She hadn't heard that the store would be closing.
The 52-year-old, who lives near the intersection of Clark Street and Devon Avenue, said she was hopeful another store would replace it.
If not, she'd shop at Jewel in Andersonville.
"You hear about food deserts all the time," she said, worried that people living nearby would lose "their grocery store."
News of Dominick's' imminent closure has been a hotly discussed topic in the neighborhood. Residents at a Rogers Park Police District CAPS meeting last week complained of panhandlers outside the supermarket.
Police Sgt. Bob Kane joked that it wouldn't be a problem "once that mall becomes a ghost town."
Sandi Price, executive director of the Rogers Park Business Alliance, said she was working closely with Moore to find a new tenant.
"We don't think that it's a huge possibility that Whole Foods or Trader Joe's would want to move into that space," she said. "This is going to take some time. It's not something that we're going to know tomorrow."
But will a tenant be found before January, when Dominick's plans to close?
"I would hope so."