A Forest Park grocery store has expressed interest in setting up a second location in Maywood, which hasn’t had a grocery store since Aldi left town in 2016. 

Living Fresh Market, 7520 Roosevelt Road in Forest Park, is exploring opening its second location inside the old Maywood Market at 615 S. 5th Ave. in Maywood. 

Representatives with Living Fresh Market were at a Maywood village board meeting on Aug. 16 to discuss their intentions. 

“If we come into the Maywood area, I believe we can do some fantastic things,” said James Buford, who manages the Forest Park grocery store, which is currently undergoing renovations. 

In 2021, Living Word Christian Center, the Forest Park megachurch that owns the sprawling commercial property on which Living Fresh Market sits, took over ownership of the store from Ken Casaccio and his team of partners. The Casaccio family owns the Leamington Foods string of grocery stores. 

Melody Winston, CEO of Living Fresh Market and the daughter of Rev. Bill Winston, the founder and pastor of Living Word Christian Center, called into Tuesday’s board meeting.

“It has rung loud and wide throughout Maywood that we need a grocery store,” said Maywood Mayor Nathaniel George Booker, a longtime member of Living Word. 

Mayor Booker said Maywood is constrained by various factors when attracting a large grocery store chain like Jewel or Mariano’s. For instance, the traffic that runs through Maywood’s commercial corridors is not as heavy as in nearby communities. And attracting customers from outside the community where a large grocery store is located is essential for any store’s survival, the mayor said. 

But that doesn’t necessarily rule out smaller, independent grocers coming into town. Mayor Booker added, “After many meetings, many pleadings, we had the owners of Living Fresh Market in Forest Park come to the [Maywood Market] several times with their engineering team.”

Booker said luring Living Fresh Market into Maywood would mean the presence of a Black-owned grocery operator in the village — something that Buford said is a rarity in the industry he’s worked in for more than 40 years. 

Living Fresh Market representatives have estimated it could take at least $1.2 million to open a second location, which Booker called a “Living Fresh Market 2.0.” 

The mayor said the village would have to put money into repairing the building’s electrical functions so that Living Fresh Market’s team can assess the building’s condition before potentially making a formal offer on the building, which the village owns. 

But some trustees were cautious about the prospect of spending more money on a site with such a dubious history of failed promises and false starts. 

When it opened in 2010, village officials said Maywood Market would be a “catalyst to future economic development.” About a year later, the Chicago Tribune called the store “Maywood’s lonely Maywood Market.” 

“On a recent day, the well-stocked aisles were virtually empty, the only sound was the soft hum of the refrigeration system,” the Tribune reported in 2011. “And there have been plenty of similar days, said co-owner Bob Haralambopoulos, who worries about the store’s survival.” 

Maywood Market closed less than two years after opening. According to records, the village spent around $3.25 million in taxpayer funds to develop the site, including a $250,000 loan floated to Haralambopoulos, George Basdekis, and Jim Stathopoulos. 

Seaway Bank, formerly First Suburban National Bank, wouldn’t loan the money unless Maywood essentially co-signed for the loan, which the village agreed to do.

When the developers defaulted on the $250,000 loan in 2011, Seaway decided to pursue the party in the best position to pay the loan back — the village.

The former grocery store has sat empty since it closed more than a decade ago, the building falling prey to vandals who, at one point, stole more than $200,000 worth of copper wiring, village officials said. 

The failure has left a bad taste in the mouths of some local elected officials. Other suitors looking to bring a grocery store to the village have approached elected officials. Maywood has not had a full-service grocery store since Aldi closed its store at 215 W. Madison St. in 2016.

Thom Alcazar, the founder of Alcazar Ltd., a consulting firm that provides expert knowledge in business automation, approached the village in 2017 with a plan to house his automated grocery warehouse inside the old Maywood Market. Alcazar also requested tax incentives for the venture, which did not materialize. 

Later that year, another businessman, Ali Hamden, offered to pay $400,000 for the 22,000-square-foot abandoned grocery store. The store is on a roughly 61,000-square-foot lot that the village also owns. 

That deal, however, fell through later that year after Hamden’s supplier, Joliet-based Central Grocers, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. 

Maywood officials estimate that it could take up to $100,000 to repair the building’s electrical system, ravaged after the copper theft several years ago. That money would come from the 5th Avenue Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district. 

Maywood officials have made electrical improvements to the building over the last few years. Still, they said those have not been sufficient to conduct the structural assessment Living Fresh Market is looking to do.  

During the Aug. 16 meeting, Maywood Trustee Isiah Brandon said he wanted more information from Living Fresh Market representatives about their plans for the Maywood building. 

At the Aug. 16 meeting, the village board agreed to direct staff to start the vetting process, which may lead to the board voting on Sept. 20 on whether or not to spend up to $100,000 on repairing the building. 

In the meantime, Mayor Booker said, at least two committee meetings will happen, along with village officials’ multiple tours of Living Fresh Market’s Forest Park facility.

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com