Several Chicago supermarkets accused of racism
November 29, 2005 (WLS) -- Several large supermarket chains are being accused of racism in Chicago. A new study reveals about a third of the city's neighborhoods do not have a brand name supermarket and most of those are minority communities.
Illinois retailers claim the big grocery chains decide where to put their stores based on economics, not race. A study released Tuesday supports the claim to an extent but minority aldermen say if their communities can support a lot of liquor stores and fast food chains, they can support big groceries. Researchers say that also makes a lot of sense.
"You have in effect a huge area of land where lots of communities are clustered together and there are not necessarily places to buy quality food, quality groceries," said Mari Gallagher, Metro Chicago Information Center
Researcher Mari Gallagher told a city council committee Tuesday that, according to a comprehensive survey, nearly a third of Chicago's neighborhoods don't have a major grocery store like Jewel, Dominicks, Aldi and Cub. More than half of those communities are predominantly African American.
The big chains, according to the study, go where the money is. And most of those communities are low-income. But the same communities also have a disproportionately high number of liquor stores and fast food chains where residents spend a lot of money in unhealthy ways.
The aldermen who represent those neighborhoods say it's more about race than economics.
"While income clearly is a defining factor, race is the overriding factor," said Ald. Freddrenna Lyle, 6th Ward.
"I think the income is a smoke screen for racism. My experience with retailers have been they say that and when I give them the median income, they come up with another reason, so it is just in fact a smoke screen," said Ald. Leslie Hairston, 5th Ward.
"There is no relationship to race. It is only about the available dollars to spend," said David Vite, Illinois Retail Merchants Assn.
Retailers categorically reject the claim of racism but they are willing to work with the city on solutions that may include economic incentives and the distribution of updated statistics that may paint a more attractive picture of inner-city neighborhoods.
"Changes have to be made and made immediately for the black community as well as the Hispanic community because we have been overlooked," said Ald. Emma Mitts, 37th Ward.
"I think we're prepared to take an aggressive look to make sure neighborhoods throughout the city are served by fresh grocers," said Lori Healey, City Planning Commissioner.
The Daley administration is putting together a 'Grocery Expo' in February so the big food store chains can sit down and brainstorm with city officials, researchers and community groups.
Aldermen Marge Laurino and Manny Flores of the committee on economic development are setting up a task force to study the problem and come up with some recommendations.
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