If all goes well, residents living in one Chicago suburb could soon be shopping at a new black-owned grocery store. At least that’s what entrepreneur Darrell Mitchell is working toward.
“It is time for someone to finally address the needs of Robbins. And one need we have here is a grocery store that sells fresh vegetables, fruits and produce,” said Mitchell, 37. “I am sick and tired of watching other villages recycle their dollars while Robbins residents spend their money outside of town.”
There are currently no full-service grocery stores in south suburb Robbins, an economically challenged village, where residents could go to buy fresh produce, vegetables and fruits.
“Not unless you count the few corner liquor stores that also sell a few grocery items like milk, bread and lunch meat,” Mitchell said. “As it stands, Robbins residents must travel to nearby Alsip to reach a ‘real’ grocery store.”
The 30,000 square foot grocery store, Save-More Finer Foods, is part of a $20 million, three-phase development at 3300 W. 137th St. that is scheduled to break ground this year and be up and running by year’s end, according to Mitchell. A 15,000 square foot urban garden is also part of phase one and will be built next to the grocery store. Phase one and two are called the Claire Boulevard Shopping Center and phase three is the Renaissance Plaza. Phase two will be an extension of the grocery store and phase three will offer commercial office and retail space.
No delivery date has been set yet for phases two and three.
“The urban garden is part of first lady Michelle Obama’s healthy eating initiative,” added Mitchell. “The garden will have farm raised catfish and grow organic fruit and vegetables.”
Robbins is comprised of 5,820 residents and most are black, according to U.S. Census data.
To date, DM Group Associates Inc., a development company Mitchell founded in 2004, has raised $110,000 but another $300,000 is needed before it can secure bank financing. The project has netted 27 investors, half are Robbins residents, and those investors have given between $500 and $77,000, according to Mitchell.
Once all three phases are complete Mitchell said he is confident it will spur more economic development for a village many people assume is economically challenged.
“The average, median income for Robbins is $35,000 a year. Does that sound like a village filled with poor people,” explained Mitchell. “There are homes in Robbins that cost over $250,000 so I don’t know why so many people think Robbins residents do not have money.”
And while census data does support Mitchell’s claim for home prices in Robbins, it listed the median, family income at $24,083. But what is challenging for Robbins is how to manage its finances, explained Robbins Mayor Irene Brodie.
“Here in Robbins, we are operating by faith. I can’t remember the last time we had a budget,” she said. “If we ever get a steady flow of money, we can then set a budget.”
The village also owes the city of Chicago $6.1 million in overdue water bills, according to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Mitchell, who founded Omega Tax & Accounting 14 years ago in Robbins, moved there over 20 years ago from Chicago’s Altgeld Gardens public housing complex on the Far South Side.
“I was going down the wrong path so my parents sent me to live with my grandmother in Robbins, who still lives here today,” recalled Mitchell. “Had it not been for me moving to Robbins I would probably be dead or in prison right now.”
The single father said there is a lot of rich history in Robbins and if the village could get a magnet development, such as a grocery store, to attract people to the area that would help give the village the positive exposure it needs.
Miami Heat basketball star Dwyane Wade, former Philadelphia 76ers basketball player and Coach Maurice Cheeks, actress Keke Palmer, and actor Mr. T all hail from Robbins.
And they are all featured in the Robbins History Museum, an unpolished jewel located at 3644 W. 139th St. that many people are unaware exists, Mitchell said.
Robbins history includes Pilots Cornelius Coffey and John C. Robinson, who founded the Robbins Airport in 1931. It was the first black-owned and operated airport in America. The two pilots later became part of the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of black aviators who fought in World War II. And it is believed that 10 Tuskegee Airmen, who Coffey and Robinson trained, once lived in Robbins.