CHICAGO — Officials broke ground on a Mariano's in Bronzeville, part of the city's push to reduce the number of food deserts plaguing the South Side.
The new grocery store, at Pershing Road and South King Drive, was first announced by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Roundy's Chairman and CEO Bob Mariano last May.
Emanuel said the Bronzeville Mariano's will be more than a store and job creator, but also a symbol that the community matters.
"This store, right here, on this street on this corner will be a symbol of the opportunity, the hope that we're bringing to a community that they count," Emanuel said.
Mariano said he personally drove through the neighborhood and hand-selected the location for the store.
"I happened to be in this area, and I drove down Martin Luther King Drive. I said, 'What's this?' then I drove back up, down, around every side street around here and I said, 'A store belongs here,'" Mariano said pointing at the ground.
"Fortunately, my intuition was convinced by the data, and we're here today," Mariano said.
Officials didn't say when construction would be complete, but the store is expected to employ 400.
Last year, Mariano's opened 16 stores in the city and suburbs. The chain has created 9,100 jobs, 3,100 of which have gone to Chicago residents since the former Dominick's executive started his own chain of supermarkets four years ago.
"We believe in the city of Chicago and its people," Mariano said. "I'm looking forward to learning about the families of Bronzeville to better inform us of their food preferences, wants and needs. I can't wait to get to know our shoppers [to show them] Mariano's will have something for everyone in their family from infancy to the elderly. I can promise you this Mariano's will be a staple in the Bronzeville neighborhood."
Julie Dent, a member of the Oakwood Boulevard Neighborhood association, said neighbors were very excited to learn about Mariano's selection for its newest location.
"Initially, it was like, 'Oh my goodness, here?' because of the historic nature of the boulevard and what have you, but I think that when the plans started to be revealed it was evident that they were going to actually incorporate the history into the building of the project," Dent said.
"There is really no opportunity for someone to go buy fresh produce locally. One has to typically drive to Hyde Park or into the South Loop, so it was a very exciting thing to hear that it was coming to us, so close to where we all live," said Dent, who's lived in the neighborhood for over a decade.
"We've always had to travel to go and get groceries," said Dent.
The new store will sit on the former site of the CHA's Ida B. Wells Homes and will be designed by Phil Johnson of Johnson and Lee Architects, who recently designed the Ping Tom Boathouse in Chinatown. It's expected to spur additional development on the 47-acre site.
"In the last four years, we've opened eight grocery stores with thousands of jobs in what were formerly known as food deserts," Emanuel said. "Bronzeville used to be that ... . People will no longer drive by; they will drive, stop and shop here in their own community."
The mayor has pledged to help get rid of food deserts all over the city, especially on the South Side. In May, Emanuel said that Bronzeville felt "passed over" in efforts to get rid of the deserts.
Although a Jewel-Osco is located in the Lake Meadow Shopping Center, 443 E. 34th St., a few blocks away, that's not convenient for some Bronzeville residents.
"When I first started as mayor, I brought together all the heads of the grocery stores. I said, 'If you're going to call yourself a Chicago grocery store you have to be in all parts of Chicago, not just some parts," Rahm said. "No child should grow up in a community or in a neighborhood where they live longer than 2 miles from where they can get fresh food and vegetables."
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