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INSANITY: Chicago mayor proposes taxpayer-funded, city-controlled grocery stores
By Belle Carter // Sep 18, 2023

Democratic Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson has been exploring opening taxpayer-funded, city-owned grocery stores in areas where businesses have already closed down due to rampant crime. The mayor is partnering with the Economic Security Project, an ideas advocacy organization that claims to build economic power for all Americans, to "brainstorm" the possibility of operating these local government-controlled groceries.

Johnson said his administration is "committed to advancing innovative, whole-of-government approaches to address inequities." "All Chicagoans deserve to live near convenient, affordable, healthy grocery options. We know access to grocery stores is already a challenge for many residents, especially on the South and West sides," Johnson said in a statement. "A better, stronger, safer future is one where our youth and our communities have access to the tools and resources they need to thrive. My administration is committed to advancing innovative, whole-of-government approaches to address these inequities."

Meanwhile, Economic Security Project's Senior Adviser Ameya Pawar stated that the proposal is similar to how "a library or the postal service operates." "The city of Chicago is reimagining the role government can play in our lives by exploring a public option for grocery stores via a municipally owned grocery store and market," Pawar said. "Not dissimilar from the way a library or the postal service operates, a public option offers economic choice and power to communities."

Both of the proponents are insisting that city-owned grocery stores have been tested in smaller municipalities and they seemed to have worked. However, these types of establishments have never been tried on a scale as large as Chicago. The Chicago Tribune reported that the two entities are to embark on a feasibility study but the city did not provide a timeline.

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Although Johnson's police chief Umi Grisby claimed the city would not be "spending any taxpayer dollars," Johnson's office said the grocery stores would be funded by grant money from state and federal tax dollars. "All of our stores are closing, and so now we have to go outside our neighborhoods to purchase food," one South Side Chicago resident told CBS News. "I think that's a good idea that Mayor Johnson is picking up the slack where these big store chains are leaving."

The initiative came amidst the pulling out of various supermarkets, pharmacies, and other food supply stores from the Windy City. In fact, Walmart closed four out of its remaining eight stores in Chicago in April. Walgreens and Aldi were also among other businesses that shut down their branches in the city. (Related: Grocery stores hiring armed security teams to ward off rising thefts.)

Noble intention but not a good idea: Chicagoan entrepreneur

Prominent Chicago restaurateur Sam Sanchez commented that the grocery stores the city government is planning to open would definitely be operating with financial losses and debts.

He turned to X, formerly known as Twitter, and shared the Chicago Tribune reporter Gregory Pratts' report on the mayor's plan. Sanchez captioned his tweet: "Nobel intention but not a good idea. These grocery stores will be operating in the red and losing taxpayers money. Control crime and business will come."

His social media post was replied to by a user with a handle name @SonofSeals saying that this initiative should be given a chance. "Sam, it is worth the study. In particular, where the market refuses to show up, and if it does, it doesn't do a good job. And to note, it won't just be just grocery stores, but other markets as well. If you have ideas, please do share." Sanchez replied in the thread with a disclaimer saying that his opinion is not a criticism of the mayor and that he even gives Johnson credit for the concern he has for serving communities. However, he emphasized that the government should not be part of free enterprise. It actually needs to create tools for free enterprise, he added.

But @SonofSeals replied again with, "Free enterprise isn't totally free, though. Tax breaks are a subsidy as well." The restaurant owner also responded: "Agree, those are the tools the government uses to attract investments. You have cities and States competing for the best companies. Grocery stores and pharmacies need to be guaranteed security and a break-even opportunity. The city can cover the loss and we can serve the people." He added that it would be better to have a company with experience running the stores with minimum risk than government-owned stores. "I'm all in helping underserved communities," was his last statement that ended the particular thread in the tweet.

Check out Grocery.news to read more stories similar to this.

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