PR — For Immediate Release
SYNOPSIS: LOCAL THUGS AND A QUESTIONABLE ALDERMAN MAY STOP CONSTRUCTION OF GROCERY STORE IN A FOOD DESERT.
One of Chicago’s food deserts may not be getting a grocery store after all. After years of wrangling, Pete’s Fresh Market broke ground on a site located at Western & Madison on Chicago’s West Side. Neighbors had waged a 5 year battle to bring a grocery store to that location. Alderman Bob Fioretti was on hand for the groundbreaking ceremony. But it all came to a screeching halt last week after the store’s owner was threatened not only by local thugs, but by the city itself.
A week ago the store’s site, exactly three miles west of the center of the city, had a construction trailer and several pieces of heavy equipment. “They worked every day. Even on weekends.” said a local resident who’s townhouse overlooks the site. Sunday, the site was just another barren parcel of land which appear to cover the West Side. The only remnant of construction is a single port-o-let. Rumors swirl about the neighborhood whether or not construction may resume anytime soon. Residents fear that they may have lost the only chance they had at getting a grocery store.
After an arduous process taking years, Pete’s Fresh Market was selected for the site. Several cut-rate or second tier grocers expressed interest however neighborhood residents feared that such a business would send the wrong message. Like many gentrifying neighborhoods it can be hard to find the right balance between long-time residents who wish to remain and keep property values, and property taxes, level and urban pioneers who are looking to see some return on their investment. Pete’s seemed like a natural fit. It’s selection had the support of nearly all in the neighborhood.
After the ground-breaking the neighborhood was excited about seeing their new store take shape. Locals talked while walking their dogs, on porches and patios, and on the phone. Emails were exchanged about everything from the construction fence going up to the equipment arriving on site. Photos were taken and news releases sent. “After being here for nine years I’m really looking forward to being able to walk to the grocery store.” said local resident Jim Bosco.
The situation changed last week when Pete’s got hit with a one-two punch.
First, a group of gentlemen who claim to be from the neighborhood stopped by the site and demanded jobs. They appeared to be organized; not just a few guys walking down the street looking for work. They came to the site, knew who to ask for, and demanded to be given jobs. Pete’s owner happened to be on site and suggested they fill out applications for employment; he even provided them with the forms. The group was told however that unless they were licensed, insured, and bonded that they could not be employed for construction work. That was unacceptable to the group and they began to get loud, pushy, and generally belligerent.
When the group was asked to leave the situation escalated. One of the group’s members brandished a handgun. Another told Pete’s owner that if they weren’t given jobs they would break every store window after it was open. Only after the group was informed that police had been called did they break-up and disappear into the streets and alleys.
Putting the unsettling experience behind them, Pete’s owner and the construction crew got back to work. However a few hours later they would be interrupted again, this time by a city Streets & Sanitation inspector. Pete’s was having a bad day; because the inspector proceeded to write Pete’s for 21 violations.
That was too much for Pete’s owner to bear. Business owners can deal with a few bullies who are looking for a handout. However no business can survive in this city when someone in power deliberately makes life difficult. Given the archaic and byzantine nature of Chicago’s codes any property is subject to numerous code violations at all times. Further, it doesn’t even matter if you’re fully in compliance. If the city writes the violation, you have to stop/ what you’re doing and head to building court. That takes time away from your business and is expensive.
Pete’s decided it was not wi/lling to fight city hall. It pulled the plug on construction, removed the equipment, and now the residents question whether or not they will get their grocery store.
The local residents don’t believe in coincidences.
Thanks to the ward remapping, Pete’s is in the “old” 2nd Ward and the “new” 27th Ward. This means that in addition to Alderman Fioretti, who spearheaded the new store, Alderman Walter Burnett is also well aware of Pete’s construction. It also just so happens that the ring-leader of the group of thugs who showed up at Pete’s is known acquaintance of Ald. Burnett’s ASSISTANT chief of staff. Further, those in the know have heard rumors for years about Ald. Burnett shaking down other business owners for everything from using the right valet service to hiring the right contractors.
Many local residents believe that Ald. Burnett was directly involved in the attempted extortion of Pete’s. They wonder why it is that Burnett is able to keep his job when so many of these stories are floating around openly. If the ward remap stands as it is, Ald. Burnett is going to have some explaining to do to folks who live in this neighborhood as to why he’s perhaps ruined their chances of getting a quality grocery store.
THIS POST IS UPDATED HERE.
THIS POST IS UPDATED 09/25/2012 HERE.
THIS POST UPDATED on 09/27/2012: I learned that Ald. Burnett’s “chief of staff: was incorrect. It was in fact Ald. Burnett’s Assistant Chief of Staff who is not only knows the thugs trying to shakedown Pete’s but WAS ACTUALLY ON SITE WITH THEM. New post here.