The final touches are coming together for a new community-operated grocery store that will open in Englewood on March 8. 

The Go Green Community Fresh Market is a cooperative-inspired corner grocery store. It is a community-led effort organized by the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) and other local community organizations to improve access to nutritious food options for residents of Englewood.

“The issues that surround corner stores in low-income communities, particularly low-income Black communities on the South and West sides of Chicago, have always been a part of the intense organizing work that IMAN has done for the last 25 years,” Alia Bilal, IMAN’s deputy executive director told The TRiiBE on Feb. 15. 

The issues that Bilal referred to include access to healthy nutritious foods, affordable food and education around health and wellness. 

The South Side neighborhood has been categorized as a food desert, meaning that the neighborhood has limited access to fresh produce and other nutritious food options. 

But long-time Englewood resident Asiaha Butler doesn’t view the neighborhood as a food desert. She’s the founder and CEO of Residents Association of Greater Englewood (R.A.G.E). 

“I just feel like a desert is something that’s in its natural state, and it’s starved of certain things. That’s not what’s happening here in Englewood,” Butler explained. “This is like intentional systemic things that have made it impossible for us to have access sometimes to fresh and healthy food. It’s food all over this community, it’s just not the best for you.”

Instead, Butler refers to what’s happening in Englewood as food apartheid because the choices and systems in place dictate what people can access. 

“I can walk down 63rd, and I could grab five or six different greasy sandwiches, but I can’t get a smoothie. So, I wouldn’t say that that’s a desert,” she said. “I would say it’s apartheid because apartheid is when it’s actually systems that affect a situation that controls their natural state, and that’s not our natural state.” 

The Go Green Community Fresh Market will be located at 1207 W. 63rd Street, just steps away from 63rd Street and Racine Avenue. The new market joins the Whole Foods on 820 W. 63rd Street, which came to the Englewood community back in 2016. 

There’s still an Aldi in the neighborhood, located at 620 W. 63rd Street, that has been there since 1991. In 2017, Aldi announced plans to spend $1.6 billion to remodel and expand Aldi grocery stores. The upgraded W. 63rd Street market reopened in October 2021.

The Go Green Community Fresh Market will offer fresh produce sourced from local vendors, along with hot pre-packaged meals from local restaurants such as Majani, a vegan soul food restaurant in South Shore. The market will accept cash, all major credit and debit cards, Apple and Samsung pay and EBT Link cards.

A rendering of the inside of the forthcoming Go Green Community Fresh Market located at 1207 W. 63rd Street. The store will open on Tuesday, March 8. Photo courtesy of Wheeler Kearns Architects.

Construction on the 7,000-square-foot building cost around $5 million and it took about two years to build. The second floor of the building will house store operations and an open meeting space for community organizations and residents. Many of the positions at the store have been filled by Englewood residents, Bilal said. 

The Go Green Community Fresh Market was an idea birthed by IMAN decades ago, Bilal said. IMAN is a community organization that fosters health, wellness and healing in inner-city communities by organizing for social change, cultivating the arts operating a holistic health center. 

In 1999, IMAN teamed up with an Englewood resident to launch the Inner-City Islamic Center and Market, a grocery store and market on 53rd and Justine. 

“Since IMAN’s incorporation in 1997, operating an alternative business model was something we were always very interested in and committed to, so when the opportunity to support the community resident in this unique business emerged, IMAN took part,” Bilal wrote in an email to The TRiiBE. “IMAN’s role was to run community programming out of the building while the community resident ran the business side.”

The store was built around and for the community and provided people with a quality shopping experience and affordable fresh food items. Bilal described it as a hybrid prayer center, mosque and market. 

“Twenty years ago, we realized we were not business people and probably had no business, at that time, trying to run a market and so we closed that effort,” Bilal explained. 

After closing the Inner-City Islamic Center and Market sometime between 2002-2003, Bilal said, IMAN acquired ownership of the building. It began hosting full-time programming and a food pantry in the space starting in 2004. From this experience, Bilal said, they learned what it takes to run a business. 

Working with local corner store owners through its Corner Store Campaign shaped their vision into “a viable business model,” she added. The Corner Store campaign was launched in 2007 and, to date, IMAN is in partnership with 50 corner store owners.

IMAN has been working toward its goal of a corner store since 1997, but the effort to create what would become the Go Green Community Fresh Market emerged in 2015. 

“The opening of this Go Green Community Fresh Market is the culmination of years and years and years of planning and visioning, and just the profound belief that our community deserves so much better than we have and that we can build this,” Bilal said. “This could be something that we build from the ground up and not something that someone swoops in and places there

A rendering of the outside of the forthcoming Go Green Community Fresh Market located at 1207 W. 63rd Street. The store will open on Tuesday, March 8. Photo courtesy of Wheeler Kearns Architects.

Additionally, the community fresh market is one of three multi-million-dollar developments in the works in Englewood in collaboration with IMAN, Teamwork Englewood, R.A.G.E, and E.G. Woode, which assists underserved communities by building the capacity of local entrepreneurs and reconceptualizing the use of commercial and retail corridors.

These developments fall under “Go Green on Racine,” an equitable neighborhood development initiative that includes the community fresh market, the Regenerator project that will repurpose the shuttered Granville T. Woods Math & Science Academy Elementary School and the Racine Village Project to build and rehab affordable housing units. It also includes a business incubator and a restaurant. Also included in the projects is improving walkability and pedestrian safety around 63rd and Racine along with reopening the Green Line Station at 63rd and Racine.

In June 2020, Chicago City Council members approved a $1.75 million grant for the Go Green Community Fresh Market made possible through the Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s  Neighborhood Opportunity Fund to help with rehab and building costs related to the project. Other funding sources for the grocery store include The Builder’s Initiative, The Pritzker Traubert Foundation, Crown Family Philanthropies, JP Morgan Chase, Polk Bros. Foundation, Kresge Foundation, the Annenberg Foundation, and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. IMAN also received a loan from the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund. 

Bilal said IMAN is raising another $1 million to build a public square space in the vacant lot next to the market. 

For more information about the Go Green Community Fresh Market visit, gogreenonracine.com.

is a multimedia producer for The TRiiBE.