A Mariano’s In Maywood? It Makes Sense

EDITORIAL

CT-BIZ-MARIANOS-A_CTSHARE 1204 SR
Mariano’s CEO Bob Mariano at the grocery store’s flagship location at 40 S. Halsted in Chicago, Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013. (E. Jason Wambsgans / Chicago Tribune / December 3, 2013)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014 || By Michael Romain 

Last month, the Chicago Tribune reported that the fast-growing upscale supermarket chain Mariano’s Fresh Markets is seeking to expand beyond the Chicago market.

“‘Other markets are on the horizon, yes,” [CEO Bob] Mariano said in a speech at the City Club of Chicago. ‘Where, we haven’t said.'”

And early this month, on the eve of Independence Day, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that the popular supermarket chain “will build five new grocery stores in ‘food deserts’ — neighborhoods with no easy access to affordable, fresh food — with the help of $5 million in Build Illinois bond proceeds committed by Gov. Pat Quinn […] Four of the new Mariano’s grocery stores will be inside the city limits, and one will be in the suburbs.”

In any other context, it would be somewhat outlandish to utter Maywood and Mariano’s in the same sentence without succumbing to an uncontrollable bout of laughter and perhaps an incredulous grin. But there’s also this — five years ago, who among us would’ve imagined that a Whole Foods would be built in Englewood? Yes, that Englewood.

And yet, “Mayor Rahm Emanuel joins community leaders and others at the July 1 groundbreaking for a Whole Foods store in Englewood.” (See photo below).

Rham Emanuel Englewood

So, back to Maywood and Mariano’s, which has an even smoother sonic ring to it than Whole Foods and Englewood. Maywood and Mariano’s. Mariano’s and Maywood. It sounds good.

And it can work, because if setting up in a suburban food desert is a goal, what dryer suburb is there than Maywood? Consider this map, which was featured in a June 2008 joint project produced by Chicago State University and the University of Illinois-Chicago entitled “Finding Food in Chicago and the Suburbs.” The maps are “the closest maps here to ‘food desert’ maps, showing access to to full-service stores, whether chain or independent,” according to the authors. Maywood’s prominence is telling.

And then there’s this 2011 article by the Chicago Tribune, which covered the now-defunct Maywood Market and its exemplary struggle to survive in a food desert.

“Maywood is a microcosm for the food desert problem playing out in urban areas across the country,” the article reads. “The local market is struggling to find customers even as first lady Michelle Obama and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, among others, have tried to draw attention to the issue.”

If ever there were a point at which negative attention could actually be of some benefit, it’s here. If a ‘food desert’ is what Mariano’s is looking for, Maywood is it. How’s that for a development pitch?

High and Low Food Access Zones

Here’s the thing, though. Saying we’re a ‘food desert’ so you should come here, isn’t enough.

Back to Whole Foods and Englewood — a relationship that Maywood should explore and emulate. The Tribune called it a “socio-economic experiment,” but Mayor Emanuel saw it differently. In a response published in the Tribune, the Mayor said this:

“If this were a stand-alone project, parachuted into the neighborhood, that description might be accurate. But this store represents the culmination of years of hard work by dedicated residents of Englewood in partnership with the city. It’s no experiment; it’s one part of a solid strategy for economic growth and job creation.

“Working closely with the community, the city has strategically invested in Englewood through urban agriculture, a City College campus dedicated to training students in the culinary field, and public schools that are graduating more college-bound students. It’s a strategy that must be replicated in every neighborhood.

“Englewood’s new Whole Foods will complement the ongoing development in the 16th Ward, such as the 72-unit Hope Manor II campus for female veterans and their children, the soon-to-come Sangamon Terrace, a 27-unit expansion of Bethel Terrace, and Montclare Englewood Senior Housing, a 123-unit housing complex for adults 55 years and older. These investments are a giant step toward realizing sustainable economics in Englewood.”

Both Emanuel and the Tribune are correct in their assertions. The Englewood Whole Foods is, indeed, a socio-economic experiment. An upscale grocery store chain rarely sets up shop in an area such as Englewood. What made the idea a reality was the fact that the people of Englewood used their neighborhood’s weaknesses as selling points to a company, Whole Foods, that prides itself on being not just a business, but a vehicle for social good. What better way to maximize your social impact than going into an area where fresh food, quality nutrition and health literacy is most lacking? Moreover, Englewood has openly allowed itself to become a living laboratory for the kind of social innovation that Whole Foods relishes — urban agriculture and various environmentally sustainable development projects among the most obvious.

But Mayor Emanuel is also correct in asserting that Englewood was able to land Whole Foods by doing more than just touting its weaknesses and throwing itself open to experimentation. It also touted its strengths and its myriad traditional development opportunities. Englewood was able to envision Whole Foods as part of a much larger, much more comprehensive economic and social plan. It was able to make the idea of a Whole Foods in a blighted neighborhood make sense.

Maywood and Mariano’s could make sense in much the same way. While Maywood may be one of the largest food deserts in the West Suburbs, it’s strategic positioning should be the envy of its suburban counterparts. Maywood hosts a multi-billion dollar medical complex comprising Loyola University Medical Center, Hines and John Madden Mental Health Center. It’s within a mile or so from Triton College and has the potential to develop formal relationships with Dominican University and Concordia University, both in River Forest. Maywood also hosts an Illinois workNet Center, which trains people from all over Cook County in various career skills. Maywood also has ample vacant commercial sites, such as the site of the former Maywood Market, that could be suitable for a Mariano’s location. In terms of attracting customers, human capital and the availability of commercial space–Maywood may have even more to boast about than Englewood.

If, like Whole Foods, Mariano’s is interested in doing good, there’s perhaps no other suburban area that could benefit more than Maywood. And if it’s interested in doing business, Maywood’s strategic positioning — right in the middle of a Proviso Township-Oak Park Township-River Forest Township suburban complex that boasts more than 200,000 people — serves the Village well. This could be a win-win situation for both Mariano’s and Maywood, depending on how it’s pitched.

But someone has to pitch it. VFP

Villegas Monuments

 

7 thoughts on “A Mariano’s In Maywood? It Makes Sense

  1. This article is right on the mark, Mariano’s would be a great asset to the community and could provide an anchor for further development. We need to get a team over the corporate HQ to make the pitch to get it here though–spell out all our assets as a community and a compelling story of why they should locate here. I’d be more than glad to be part of the team if we could organize this effort.

  2. Locations on 1st Avenue, Roosevelt, or Madison (east of 1st) may make it a promisiing, viable, and visionary proposition–but likely myopic if 5th and Washington is considered.

  3. 1st and roosevelt would be good. Maybe the old driving range that is now defunct @ on Madison between 1st and Thatcher.

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