During community meeting held last month at Douglas Park Fieldhouse, 1401 S Sacramento Dr., and organized by Ald. Michael Scott (24th), a number of residents complained about service and inferior selection at Homan Square's Leamington Foods, 3240 W. Roosevelt Rd.
Owner Ken Cassaico admitted that there were issues, but he said that much of the problems were due to him trying to pay for a space that's too large for his needs. He said he's been working with his landlord, the Matanky Realty Group, to reduce the space by half and that he would use the savings to improve service and inventory.
But many of his critics weren't satisfied with that explanation, arguing that whatever issues he may be facing, the community deserved better than what it was getting.
As the meeting got underway, Scott acknowledged that there was '"a lot of frustration" about the store in the community.
"I want the reality company to hear your concerns, so we can come to a solution," the alderman said.
Cassaico explained that he took over the location from Dominick's, which closed all of its stores in 2014. He was approached by the city about taking over the location. As Cassaico explained, there were challenges, such as the fact that that there were no blueprints for the space, so they had to work "off the cuff."
Even so, they worked to reopen the space as Leamington Foods as quickly as they could, something that they deserved credit for, Scott said.
"I wanted to keep in mind that it was a quick turnaround for Dominick's," the alderman said. "Leamington was asked to fill the void. We had only one grocery store in the community and the city couldn't get anyone else to hold that [spot]."
Terry Cox, the senior vice president at Matanky, explained that Cassaico had to deal with utility bills and maintenance for more space than he needed. Matanky was willing to work with him, cutting the space in half so that he could reduce expenses. Cassaico said he would reinvest the savings back into the store.
"When it happens, it will be more compact and easier to maintain," he said. "I [currently] have no money left over to do what I probably need to do."
He also mentioned that he is working with a new wholesaler, so the quality of the food in general should improve.
Scott mentioned that his office has received a number of complaints about Leamington's.
"I received a number of complaints. The floors aren't as clean as they need to be, [complaints about] quality of food, [particularly] vegetables, in the store," he said.
Scott explained that one thing he wanted to avoid was having Cassaico leave the neighborhood altogether.
"We can't get anyone else to take that property. I don't have anyone else lining up to take the property," he said. "Now, there are problems, there are issues, and I want to hear from you what the issues are. If we shrink the [store space], maybe there's an opportunity for other grocery stores to come in."
During the meeting, Cassaico addressed some residents' concerns head-on, such as why shoppers couldn't take shopping carts out of the store.
"After $15,000 of lost shopping carts, I couldn't take that anymore," he said. "I spent Sundays going down the street, looking for my carts. I didn't want to do it, I don't like it, but I couldn't take that anymore. I could no longer lose money on shopping carts."
Other issues that were raised during the meeting were the quality of produce, the lack of seafood and fish options, as well as the fact that shoppers can't get cash back.
Cassaico responded that the new wholesaler should address the produce issue, and that he admitted that fresh fish was "one department that was overlooked."
"I intend to stay," Cassaico said, which he kept reiterating during the meeting. "I want to stay."
"He would get a lot more people to buy the food if the quality was good," said resident Mary Jones.
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