By Thomas Vogel
Forest Park Mayor Anthony Calderone said at the village council's June 26 meeting he is working to fill the former Ultra Foods site but Forest Parkers should not expect a new grocer anytime soon.
The store, in Forest Park Plaza, 7600 Roosevelt Rd., owned by Strack and Van Til, a regional grocer headquartered in Northwest Indiana, was one of nine locations that shuttered in June. The store employed 92 workers and, according to Forest Park Village Administrator Tim Gillian, brought in $130,000 in sales tax revenue in 2016.
"When a facility that size vacates, you know, it piques a tremendous amount of interest in the community," Calderone said, referring to Ultra. "Sometimes, some individuals think that you can just turn around next week [and] find another retail grocer to go into that spot. I'm here to tell you it's not that easy."
Calderone added he recently met with one grocery store developer and the plaza's ownership, Forest Park Plaza LLC, a for-profit entity of Living Word Christian Center, which is also in the mall. At that meeting, which was to "begin some conversations," Calderone said the developer told him filling the site would "take the better part of a year" no matter which retailer fills the space.
Kim Gray, spokesperson for Living Word, declined to comment for this story.
"The whole landscape in kinda the big box grocery store is in flux right now," Calderone told village commissioners. "The bigger grocery store operators are being very, very careful on the selection of where they are going to locate but I'm just bringing this to your attention to let you know that this is not being left unattended."
Gillian echoed the mayor in a June 27 phone call saying big box retailers, such as Target, are scaling down and adding stores with smaller footprints. That trend, along with other grocery industry upheaval and uncertainty, like Amazon's recent purchase of Whole Foods, might make the 75,000 square foot space harder to fill.
Gillian also reiterated the village, which does not own the property, is limited in what kind of tenant ends up filling the space.
But, Gillian said, the village would like to have a tenant that could generate significant sales tax revenue. For now, Calderone and the village will continue to facilitate communication between the building's ownership and potential developers.
"We'll always have our ears open," Gillian said. "We'll continue our conversations with the mall."
Central Grocers, a Joliet-based cooperative, owns Strack and Van Til. As part of those closures, Central Grocers also sold off 22 other Strack stores.
"I just want you to know that we are going to continue to work with the ownership down there to try and keep things moving," Calderone said. "But it's not going to happen next week or even next month."