The only grocery store left in West Garfield Park has been temporarily closed by city health inspectors.
The Save A Lot at 420 S. Pulaski Road had its license revoked Feb. 8 after food inspectors responding to customer complaints found the grocery store was infested with rodents, according to the Chicago Department of Public Health.
The grocery store will remain closed until the Save A Lot passes a re-inspection “that meets the health code and prevents the spread of food-borne disease,” a health department spokesperson said in a statement.
The temporary closure worsens an already desperate scarcity of places for West Side residents to buy food. Until late 2021, many West Garfield Park residents shopped at the Aldi at 3835 W. Madison St. But when the Aldi abruptly closed in October, the Save A Lot remained as the last supermarket in the area.
Residents shouldn’t have to travel outside of their neighborhood to get fresh fruits and vegetables, said Vetress Boyce, resident and business owner on the West Side. A Freshway Market at 3240 W. Roosevelt Road is located about 1.5 miles from the Save A Lot store.
“It’s a matter of life and death. It’s a matter of life expectancy,” Boyce said.
West Garfield Park residents’ average life expectancy is 16 years shorter than people living Downtown, according to a 2015 Virginia Commonwealth University report. The disparity isn’t only due to shortcomings in clinical health care; social conditions like the lack of fresh food are major drivers of the so-called “death gap,” the study found.
“A lot of it is the access to food that we have close to us and in walking distance. There is no healthy grocery store that sells quality food around here,” Boyce said. “I have to travel all the way east … to get food I’m comfortable with eating.”
Staff at the Save A Lot “are working to resolve this issue as soon as possible so we may reopen the store and ensure a clean and safe shopping experience for our customers,” spokesperson Sarah Griffin said in a statement.
The rodent infestation isn’t an isolated incident: Public health department records show the Save A Lot failed five food inspections in 2021.
A January inspection that year found the building was not properly sealed to protect it from pests. Rat droppings were also found in the store’s storage rooms. Some of the store’s refrigerators were not functioning at a low enough temperature to keep the food fresh.
Similar inspections reporting unsanitary facilities and rodent infestations go as far back as 2012, the records show.
Residents have been wary of the quality of food and safety issues at the store for years, said Al Person, a lifelong West Side resident. Person is working to open his own grocery store, North Lawndale Fresh Meat & Produce Market, two blocks south of the Save A Lot at 628 S. Pulaski Road.
“Why did it take the city to shut it down? Why didn’t you clean it up yourself? It would have been business as usual if the city hadn’t come,” Person said.
The West Side needs more Black- and locally owned supermarkets and stores that are committed to the residents that patronize them, Person said. Those kinds of businesses are more likely to offer quality goods and services and won’t cut corners to fill their own pockets, Person said.
Large corporations frequently treat Black communities with neglect since they prioritize their profits over the people they serve, Person said. Stores like Save A Lot have issues because they are unwilling to invest in better facilities and equipment to keep the food safe from spoilage and pests, he said.
“People are left here with no place to shop yet again. It’s a constant issue. They want to come into the community and make money but don’t want to reinvest in the property to make sure it is suitable to house that food,” Person said.