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Northside co-op aims to lessen effect of gentrification

Daisy Moore, a 32-year resident of the Uptown neighborhood in Chicago, walked down North Broadway pushing a food cart and carrying a shopping bag filled with groceries from Aldi Market. She has shopped at every market in the neighborhood — from the big supermarket chains to discount stores — but for the first time, she will have a chance to shop at a co-op when Chicago Market opens next year.

Co-ops — or cooperative markets funded by and for the neighborhood — are meant to give communities local and healthy food, but for neighborhoods like Uptown, a luxury like a cooperative market raises concerns that some residents may be pushed out.

“If it’s affordable for us, then beautiful,”  Moore said. “But otherwise I’m not even going to step in there.”

Chicago Market at 4614 North Broadway will be different from traditional chain stores like Jewel Osco and Aldi.  It will be half-owned by community part-owners and feature a variety of local and ethically produced food.  Members of Chicago Market say they hope to make the store accessible to everyone, especially in an area like Uptown which has faced rising costs of living.

The Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul University listed Uptown as a high risk for housing displacement in 2017 with average housing prices up 39 percent since 2012.  

“Because of the revitalization in Uptown, there is a very real fear of gentrification,” Chicago Market board member John Michael Rotello said. “Our whole idea is to make fresh, healthy, local food accessible to everyone.”

Rotello is the head of the Outreach and Inclusion Committee at Chicago Market.  The committee’s focus is to make sure the market is accessible to everyone in the community by seeking out ways to make the market affordable to the people of Uptown.  

So far, the committee has pitched a number of initiatives to bring in a more diverse consumer base, such as lowering the buy-in cost that sometimes acts as a barrier for lower-income people to shop at co-ops.  

Chicago currently only has two other brick and mortar co-op markets, but other large cities with co-ops have largely faced gentrification and tend to mostly cater to white higher income shoppers.  In New York City, co-ops and healthy food markets in former food deserts have led some residents in historically lower income communities to be pushed out of their neighborhoods by people with higher incomes attracted to the affordable and healthy market options.  

Chicago Market plans to keep shopping open to anyone to prevent the perception of exclusivity other co-ops have faced in the U.S.  Rotello says the team is working to offer sliding income and student buy-in options for people who may not be able to afford the current $250 owner fee.

Though membership will not be necessary to shop at Chicago Market, volunteer and part-owner Annette Mambuca said that it is an important process everyone should get to be a part of, regardless of income.

“It just democratizes food accessibility which is something really important to us,” Mambuca said. “We do want to make it as inclusive as possible.”

Mambuca has been a part owner for four years and encourages everyone in the community to consider joining so they can choose where their food comes from and how it is distributed.  As a part-owner, shoppers can have a direct say in what they want to see in their supermarket, separating them from other large corporately owned grocery stores like Jewel Osco or Mariano’s.  

Uptown’s Alderman, James Cappleman, has been involved with the project for several years and was instrumental in finding the market’s future home under the renovated Wilson CTA station.  The location is inside the historical Gerber building, which was first constructed in 1923. Cappleman hoped to keep it relevant to the Uptown community.

“CTA’s go to is to make a Popeyes or a Dunkin Donuts,” spokesperson for Alderman Cappleman, Tressa Seher, said. “And we wanted something much more community focused.”

The CTA Red Line modernization has been one of Cappleman’s key accomplishments, bringing new residents and businesses into the neighborhood with it.  

However, the renovation — coupled with growing number of luxury high-rise developments and rising cost of living in the area during his tenure — has been controversial, leading to some skepticism about the project overall.

Chicago Market board members insist that, though this may be an unfamiliar concept in Chicago, it will be good for the community overall because the market will stimulate the local economy.

“You know that your money is staying in the community,” board member, Sofia Jouravel, said.  “It’s not going off to Wall Street or another state where another grocery store may be headquartered. It’s literally staying in Uptown.”

Chicago Market also intends to bring many good paying jobs to the neighborhood by partnering with local workforce development nonprofits in the area as well as sell and promote products from small businesses from the greater north side.

The market, on North Broadway and Wilson Avenue is scheduled to open in April 2020.

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