Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Chatham grocery store no longer Black-owned

From the Chicago Defender, I find this unfortunate!

For 25 years, the Chatham Food Center has been a rarity in Chicago–the only Black-owned supermarket, serving grocery shoppers on the South Side. But that era has ended now that the store, at 327 E. 79th St., has been sold to a Lebanese investor.

“Let me say right off the bat that our preference was to sell to someone Black,” said Leonard Harris, 63, who founded the store with his wife Donna, 25 years ago. “But when we could not find a Black buyer we started looking 'outside the box' and that's when Mr. (Ahmad) Kleit approached us with an offer.”

Harris said he expects the ownership change to be complete by July. Harris said he plans to take the proceeds of the sale and invest in future economic development for the community. While declining to discuss the selling price, Harris said the store posted $4.4 million in sales last year, a figure it has averaged for the last few years.

“We're reviewing all our options,” Harris said referring to his next business move. At one point Harris had asked his oldest son, a Morehouse College graduate, if he was interested in taking over the store's day-to-day management. “My son is not interested in the business. His interest is in real estate right now,” he added.

And another contributing factor to Harris selling the business was his inability to expand the store size. “We are land locked. We would not have been able to expand the store unless we had built from the top up and that was not economically feasible,” Harris added.

“It just made more economic sense to sell rather than to spend money to build on top of the store or relocate.” The two-story, 4,000-square-feet building includes a 20-car parking lot and is located across the street from Ruggles Elementary School. Even though the new owner is not Black, Harris said Kleit has met specific demands made by him to ensure that the store would continue to contribute, economically, to the Chatham community.

“The new owner has opened an account at Seaway National Bank, agreed to retain all (40) employees and will continue to purchase some products from Black vendors,” Harris said. “By him doing this it says a lot and I think the community should give him a chance and continue to support the Chatham Food Center.” Among the Black products sold at Chatham Food Center are Reggio's pizza, butter pecan syrup by Michele Foods and Glory greens.

That's business!!! At least the store will remain an oasis in the food desert even if it isn't black owned. It's too bad that I don't know when this story was written.

You should know this store has been a semi-frequent topic of discussion.


  1. The sale is very recent...my wife & i saw the new owners checking out the property a couple of weeks ago...we thought it odd that non-blacks were there.

    It's too bad they couldn't have bought the building next door. Perhaps they could have converted the storefronts (perhaps 1 by 1) to expand the store..and maybe the apartments as condos?

    It's sad that the employees couldn't have owned the store...

  2. When I heard this on NPR this morning, I cried…this shouldn’t be happening in 2008…every generation starting from scratch…If his son didn’t want it, he should’ve called me…but guess what…I wasn’t ready…the question is why not…

    There is a missing link to the generations in the African American community…he should have had someone interested enough to groom for that business...we cannot afford to have others buy our businesses…we don’t have it like that…this is so much bigger than having specialty items for African Americans…

    This is my wake up call to getting ready…the generations before us have worked 2 hard…that store earned $4.4m in sales last year according to this article…employed 40 folks…anyway

  3. I too, was devastated when I heard of the sale. I find it hard to believe there were no black investors that could have bought it. I'm 48 years old and my family has shopped there since I was a child and it was owned by Mr. Collins. I will try to give it a chance because of the employee's but it truly is the end of an era

  4. I purchased chicken nuggets from Chatham Foods on Sunday, March 1. When I went to prepare them today, March 3, they were moldy and to my surprise there were three price stickers on this package dating back to January 13th. Is this the quality of service we can expect from the new owners of Chatham Foods? This is appalling and unacceptable!


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