Food deserts: Joliet’s nutrition crisis

Brock A. Stein | 1/31/2018, 1:40 p.m. | Updated on 2/9/2018, 12:11 p.m.
On the USDA website, a map of the United States shows the places where lack of access to grocery stores ...
Stores like the El Ranchito Supermarket on Cass Street offer residents of Joliet's east side food-buying options. Brock A. Stein

The need is there

Lack of access to full-service grocery stores was made worse by the closing of two Certified Warehouse Food stores—one on E. Jackson and the other on Richards St.—in 2017.

“That really created a huge gap in terms of access,” said City Council member Bettye Gavin whose non-profit, The Forest Park Community Center operates on Woodruff Ave. in Joliet.

“It is a problem.”

To help attract more grocery stores to the area, she said that the city was putting together incentive packages to attract the businesses. Nabbing a larger grocery store chain to serve the people in the east side would not only provide access to healthier food options but would also prevent the “leakage” of sales tax revenue for residents who do travel to Lockport and New Lenox to shop.

She said that many east-side residents make do with the more limited options offered at smaller stores in the area and for those who can’t she said that the Forest Park Community Center offers a food pantry that delivers 3 days per week. The food for the pantry comes from places like the Northern Illinois Food Bank and ironically, from partners like Jewel and Aldi.

She said that years ago the area had a Jewel on Jackson Street and a Kroeger store and that Aldi had showed interest in a location on Cass St. where a dollar store eventually was built. She holds out hope that the incentive packages from the city will be enough to get a grocery chain to “take a look at the east side” citing the population nearby that is ready to shop there.

“We’ve got enough roof tops to support it,” said Gavin.

Economic incentives

Steve Jones, Economic Development Director for the City of Joliet, said that the east side is not only underserved by grocery stores but other retail services and has been a focus of the city’s economic development department even before the closure of the two Certified Foods Warehouse locations.


Brock A. Stein

Limited grocery-buying options in Joliet were made worse when two Certified Foods stores closed in 2016.

He said that he had hoped to have a project to announce last year that would alleviate some of the needs for east-side residents but said that the announcement probably won’t be forthcoming until sometime mid-year in 2018 now.

“It’s one of those priorities we’ve had since Certified closed,” said Jones.

He said that incentives for a potential grocer could include tax incentives, breaks on permitting, and he notes that parts of the area are located in both a TIF district and a special service area.

But in order to garner those incentives, the project “has to be something that adds value” and be more than a convenience store that offers some food options.

“But if somebody wants to take the Certified Food Warehouse and redevelop and bring food back to the neighborhood that’s different,” he said.

Long term

A longer term site that could also potentially bring more retail and grocery options is the former Silver Cross Hospital campus that, once demolished, could be redeveloped as a town center with a mix of housing and retail and “fill the overall niches on the overall east side.”