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Grocery stores that closed during the George Floyd fallout start to reopen. But food remains elusive in some neighborhoods.

Volunteers Janet Kemper, left, Nicole Boisseau and Kristen Schroeder participate in a community cleanup around a Mariano's grocery store in the Bronzeville neighborhood on June 3, 2020.

Volunteers Janet Kemper, left, Nicole Boisseau and Kristen Schroeder participate in a community cleanup around a Mariano's grocery store in the Bronzeville neighborhood on June 3, 2020. (Zbigniew Bzdak / Chicago Tribune)

Many grocery stores that shut their doors this week during the fallout from George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis started to open again Thursday with limited hours, hoping the unrest that damaged dozens of neighborhood businesses had quieted.

But some remain closed with no word on when they might resume operations, raising concerns about food access in communities that already had limited options.

In South Shore, Local Market, which had been boarded up and closed since Sunday, opened with shortened hours Thursday after hearing from residents who said they needed the store to function because they didn’t have food, co-owner Eva Jakubowski said.

Parts of the neighborhood had been designated a food desert by the city before Local Market opened in December on a site that had been vacant since Dominick’s closed six years before.

A looted and damaged Walmart Neighborhood Market on 47th Street in Chicago on June 1, 2020.

A looted and damaged Walmart Neighborhood Market on 47th Street in Chicago on June 1, 2020. (Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune)

Looters tried to break in Monday but the store’s security guards, with reinforcement from police , fended them off before they caused serious damage, Jakubowski said. On Wednesday, close to 500 volunteers gathered to help clean up the store.

“The way the community has stepped up to support their store is something I have never seen before,” Jakubowski said. “So many people are depending on us because they really need us.”

In Englewood, all of the grocery stores and drug stores were closed during the first half of the week, presenting a challenge for seniors on fixed incomes who typically shop for food when their benefits arrive at the first of the month, said Felicia Slaton-Young, executive director of the Greater Englewood Chamber of Commerce.

Whole Foods, which wasn’t looted but closed Monday through Wednesday as a precautionary measure, opened Thursday morning. The nearby Aldi, Food for Less, Walmart and Walgreens remained closed.

“The scary thing about not having any stores is that we don’t have any idea how long this will be,” Slaton-Young said. “We are worried it could take months for businesses to assess the damage, pick up the mess, bring their people back as they assess the safety conditions of their employees.”

The disruption is especially worrisome for lower-income neighborhoods that struggle to attract and keep retailers.

“We are concerned that they won’t reopen, and we hope that the city will fight for their return and their desire to remain in the community,” Slaton-Young said.

The exterior of a damaged Walgreens at 86th and Cottage Grove in Chicago on June 3, 2020. The store is currently closed.

The exterior of a damaged Walgreens at 86th and Cottage Grove in Chicago on June 3, 2020. The store is currently closed. (Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune)

Jewel-Osco did not respond to requests for comment about which stores remain closed and when they might reopen. Mariano’s said a few stores sustained minor damage but the only location it closed among its fleet of 44 was in Bronzeville, which is set to reopen Friday morning.

Aldi declined to give an update on its store closures, saying only that “we are currently focused on the safety of our employees and customers.”

Pete’s Fresh Market experienced “extensive” property damage and looting late Sunday night into Monday morning at its store at Western and Madison avenues, but it opened by 9 a.m. the same day and has been open since, said Vanessa Dremonas.

“We have all been running on fumes due to COVID-19, but we had a community depending on us to serve them,” she said. Dremonas added that the chain has increased security and surveillance to keep customers and employees safe.

All the major stores were closed this week in Chatham, from 75th to 95th Streets and Stony Island to the expressway, said Pattilyn Beals, interim executive director of the Chatham Business Association.

“If you don’t have a car, it’s a bad situation,” she said.

Beals hasn’t heard yet when they might reopen. She worries about them coming back at all.

“They have the ability to leave if the damage outweighs the prospect of staying,” said Beals, adding the neighborhood still has not filled the void left by Target when it left a few years ago. “That’s a very scary prospect.”

In the meantime, community groups are pulling together to ensure their neighbors get the food and household supplies they need, sometimes employing programs set up to help residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It wasn’t a question of what do we do now, it was who do we call first,” Slaton Young said.

Since late March, Teamwork Englewood has been part of a collective providing food, cleaning supplies and toiletries to some 1,500 families struggling to make ends meet during the pandemic, with donations from philanthropic group Chicago Beyond. Now it is using that system to deliver goods to seniors, said Cecile De Mello, executive director of the nonprofit, which runs numerous programs to improve the economic and social opportunities for residents.

De Mello said she called dozens of senior citizens who said they needed food but didn’t want to go outside, or the stores nearby were closed. Some were able to get their children and grandchildren to pick up food for them, but others don’t have family nearby or there are transportation issues.

Some people are facing challenges she didn’t anticipate, such as the closure of currency exchanges that people rely on to pay rent or bills. But the “No. 1 retail concern,” she said, is Walgreens, where people stock up on food, prescriptions and hygiene products. Walgreens said this week it is still assessing damage to its stores.

“The Walgreens are very important to families,” said De Mello.

Despite the setback, De Mello said the crisis has brought to the forefront longstanding issues of food insecurity and incited a call to action she hopes results in change.

“The picture looks bleak, but not only will we be able to learn from this, we will become more resilient and we are going to work together like we have been working together to build an even stronger community,” she said. “This has elevated a lot folks’ passion go improve upon the future in a real way.”

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