Auburn Gresham residents have waited more than a year for their looted and ransacked Jewel-Osco at 9400 S. Ashland Ave. to reopen.
The store was getting “a little gray,” as local Ald. Howard Brookins (21st) put it, even before it was picked clean in the civil unrest that followed the death of George Floyd. It was high-time for, what Brookins called “a third iteration.”
On Wednesday, the remodeled store that Brookins affectionately called, “my Jewels” reopened to the public, but with a partnership that will provide local residents with more than just a local place to buy their groceries and pharmaceuticals.
The store includes a 2,200 square foot “community room” for Chicago’s iconic South Shore Drill Team. With lockers, cushioned flooring, refrigerator, microwave, free Wi-Fi and a wireless video and audio projection system, the room will serve as a second rehearsal space.
It will allow a group that has grown from a “small troupe of four twirling rifles” to 250 members to serve even more young people on the South Side.
“They approached us and asked us to create a wish list. And I can tell you, they made every single ask come true,” said Jasmine Kelly, the drill team’s board president.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot called it Jewel-Osco’s “first-ever room dedicated specifically to an organization.”
“We heard from the team as we were trying to rebuild and do Invest South/West: ‘We need a space to be able to practice.’ As fate would have it, these two moments came together: Reopening of the store and then, Jewel had told us, `We want to do something that really helps support this community.’ A greater match could not have been made,” Lightfoot said.
It’s one thing to “enhance a vital community resource such as a grocery store,” the mayor said. It’s quite another to “create an entirely new resource that will further improve the health and well-being and quality of life of our residents,” she said.
“Thank you, Jewel, for recognizing a need in the community and creating this partnership. … This new space will allow the team to bring on and train new members, be a practice space for them so they can practice routines and grow closer together by sharing meals, playing ping-pong and overall to help connect young people in the area with an opportunity to check out one of our city’s most iconic youth-focused extra-curricular activities,” Lightfoot said.
The newly-remodeled store includes an upgraded check-out area, expanded deli, meat and seafood counters, “refreshed” produce and a Drive Up & Go area where customers who buy groceries online can pick up their orders.
In celebrating the future, Lightfoot couldn’t help but harken back to the ugly and all-too-recent past.
“I will never forget the horrific events of that last weekend in May of 2020. That Monday, June 1, I spent the entire day … traveling all across the city to see for my own eyes and assess the damage that had been done to our city by looters. One of the lowest points that I have experienced in my time as mayor,” Lightfoot said.
“Seeing Jewel stores literally stripped of everything. Not just the food and the beverages, but the coolers, the shelving. Some of these stores, I thought there’s no chance that they will rebuild. … But the thing that gave me hope that day was hearing from the store managers: ‘We’ll be back.’ Residents came to them with shovels [and] brooms, to help sweep up the mess. Seeing in the eyes of the workers … the commitment they had. The store managers saying, ‘We’re not going anywhere. We have hope and a responsibility in these communities.’ “
Brookins said he couldn’t be more thrilled that the grocery store “where I meet the community” is now a bigger and better “food oasis” in a sea of food deserts.
“Like all of us over the years, it started to look a little gray. … You’ve heard the clarion call to do something with this store. We are ecstatic that you have done it. And I think that it will be paid off in spades,” Brookins said.
“Whether it is this Jewel or the one that’s also in my ward on 87th and the Dan Ryan — after the investment, they have seen people flocking back to the Jewels. Business begets business begets business. With your continued investment here, with the Starbucks that is soon to come, this will be the center of commerce for a while.”