Dozens of elected officials, faith leaders, community organizations and residents rallied at the Aldi’s location in the North Side’s West Ridge community, at 6220 N. California Ave., to protest the closing of the chain’s West Garfield Park location at 3835 W. Madison St. and to urge the company to sell the store to a locally owned grocery store operator.

The closure of the West Garfield Park location in early October leaves the community with only one grocery store, which the rally organizers described as an act of violence because of the health and social impacts.

The Oct. 28 rally was organized by the West Side United collaborative and included Ald. Jason Ervin (28th); Rev. Marshall Hatch, of West Garfield Park’s New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church, 4301 W. Washington Blvd.; doctors and medical students from the Rush University System for Health; and West Garfield Park residents. 

The organizers said they chose the location, because it is Aldi’s Chicago corporate headquarters. The company’s corporate website states that Chicago is split between two divisions, with the Batavia Division including North Chicago and North Chicagoland and the Valparaiso Division including South Chicago, the south suburbs and Northwest Indiana. 

West Ridge is a stark contrast to West Garfield Park. Although most of the community’s residents are non-White, the area has as a large number of grocery stories, many of which are geared toward specific ethnic groups. 

Ervin, whose ward includes West Garfield Park and who chairs the City Council’s Black Caucus, said that Aldi didn’t notify him of the location’s impending closure. He said that he was “disappointed” with the chain’s decision, but wants to look at the building’s future.

“[I would like to see] someone who respects the community, someone who will work with people,” he said. “So long as it’s going to provide fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, the name doesn’t matter.”

Ervin said that, since the closing, he has “talked to a couple of people,” but everything was contingent on the building being available.

“I talked to Aldi, but it hasn’t made any commitments,” he added.

Hatch and Dr. David Ansell, who heads Rush’s community health equity efforts, both compared the store’s closing to an act of violence. 

“It’s violence that perpetuates violence that we see on the news, except in this case, Aldi is the initiator of the violence,” Hatch said. “Without warming, without a conversation, just moving out in the dark of night.”

“Framing this in the wake of COVID, the economic disruption that the shameful act Aldi has done under the cover of night, has to be treated as an act of violence,” Ansell said. “It’s like a bullet. To call this anything else would diminish its destructiveness.”

Hatch pointed to the fact that Aldi is expanding elsewhere, which, he said, shouldn’t come at the expense of existing stores. In an Aug. 16 press release, the chain touted “aggressive growth” and renovated the location in Austin’s Island neighborhood, at 5629 W. Fillmore St., earlier this year.

Ansell said that it has to be seen in the context of decades of disinvestment in the once-vibrant Madison/Pulaski commercial corridor. he also said that access to fresh food has an effect on community healthy, which made it even worse under the current conditions.He added that businesses like Aldi that decide to leave already under-resourced communities should be held accountable. 

“Just as we need to hold a police officer accountable if they shot an unarmed man, we should hold corporations accountable,” Ansell said. “Now, we want them to give us the [building], but we have to hold them accountable.”

Rev. Ira Acree, of Austin’s Greater St John Bible Church, 1256 N. Waller Ave., said he joined the rally as a show of solidarity, saying that he felt that Aldi disrespected West Garfield Park, making money without giving back and leaving the community in a lurch.

“I commend residents for fighting back,” he said. 

TJ Crawford, of West Garfield Park, lives five blocks from the closed store. 

“I now have to drive three miles to get healthy food,” he said. “[If this happened to you], you’d feel devalued, you’d feel abandoned, you’d feel neglected and, at the very least, you’d feel frustrated.”

Rochelle Sykes lives in Austin and works near the closed store. She said that she used to go there to buy groceries after work, since it was still a closer and more convenient option than the two locations in or near her community. 

“Now, I have to rethink how I get the fresh fruits and vegetables for my family,” she said. “It’s going to be a lose-lose situation.”

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...