North Lawndale grocery store to be renovated, renamed

Leamington Foods to become Living Fresh Market

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By Igor Studenkov

Contributing Reporter

The building at 3250 W. Roosevelt Rd. in North Lawndale that used to house Leamington Foods will undergo a complete makeover before opening up under a completely different name.  

On Oct. 16, the Chicago City Council approved New York City-based Mercer Street Holdings Three LLC's Neighborhood Opportunity Fund grant application, allowing the company to fund the $1.5 million purchase and renovation of the store. 

According to the grant award letter, the company is looking to downsize the store space, from 50,000 square feet to 39,000 square feet, make some facade improvements and interior renovations, and rename the store Living Fresh Market. 

The new owner would also need to pay the rent Leamington owes to Matanky Realty Group, the current owner of the building and the Lawndale Plaza shopping plaza it sits on. While it is unclear when the renovations will be complete, the agreement specifies that it must be open by no later than March 22, 2021.  

Aside from the North Lawndale location, Leamington Foods has a store in Austin at 5467 W. Madison St. The North Lawndale space was a Dominick's location until 2014, when the grocery store chain went out of business. The city approached Leamington Foods owner Ken Cassaico to fill the space. 

Back in 2017, Cassaico tried to reduce the space by half, explaining that it would save money on maintenance costs and utility bills. At the time, a number of residents raised concerns about the quality of produce and the lack of seafood and fish options. Cassaico said he hoped to improve the store's offerings by working with a new wholesaler. 

Mercer Street Holdings Three is a limited liability company owned by Tolis Advisors, a New York City-based investment service management company. The Neighborhood Opportunity Fund grant application was originally filed by Joe Rosato, an investment analyst at Tolis, but the final agreement and financial disclosures were filled out and signed by Salvatore Puliafico, one of the partners at the company.

Puliafico did not respond to calls and e-mails seeking comment. The agreement indicates that the company plans to "better serve the community with new product lines and cooked/prepared foods."

The Neighborhood Opportunity Fund grants don't pay money right away. Rather, the applicants are reimbursed once the project is completed. According to the award letter, Mercer Street Holdings Three is expected to spend around $2.38 million on the project overall, with the rest of the funding coming from equity. 

The grant does come with several conditions attached. It must complete the project within two letters of the date the grant award letter was issued, and it "shall continuously own, occupy, and operate the entirety of the Project for three years" after the project is completed. 

Chicago residents must perform at least 50 percent of the work, although there is nothing that says that those residents have to come from North Lawndale in particular. The wages must follow the same kind of prevailing wage requirements as government projects, and the project requires participation from minority-owned and women-owned businesses. 

CONTACT: igorst3@hotmail.com  

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