January 25, 2008

Hyde Park Produce fills grocer void

[img id="80289" align="alignleft"] Atlantic salmon fillets, cucumbers, and even a selection of cacti greeted shoppers at the opening of Hyde Park Produce’s new store Wednesday afternoon at South Kimbark Avenue and East 53rd Street.

More than 150 neighborhood residents and students pressed through aisles of fresh produce and products that couldn’t fit in the store’s original location, a block away on 53rd Street. The open house commemorated the grocer’s expansion to the shopping center. The new store’s produce section is larger than the entire old site, and the space is about three times larger in all, co-owner Ron Thomas said.

“This is a happy moment for Hyde Park,” said Jack Spicer, chairman of the Hyde Park Historical Society’s preservation committee and a resident of the neighborhood since 1970.

Fresh meats, fish, and produce have been rare sights in Hyde Park since the Co-op, Hyde Park’s main grocery store, stopped selling perishable food after the decision to close the store was finalized [See correction below]. Many residents have lamented the lack of organic and premium grocery options.

“They have actual fish,” fourth-year David Pisano said, while purchasing salmon. “Awesome.”

Shoppers praised Hyde Park Produce’s prices, variety, and atmosphere. Several customers admired the grocer’s new LCD screens that show prices of items during checkout.

Many said that the new Hyde Park Produce is an improvement over older grocery options. The Co-op branch “wasn’t a friendly place,” Spicer said.

Thomas had planned to use some of the Co-op’s old equipment but found little of it usable.

“We ended up trashing everything,” he said.

Thomas coordinated the new location’s construction after the store signed a lease with the U of C last year. Hyde Park Produce’s new location was slated to open last summer, but construction setbacks and permit delays kept it shuttered. Thomas added that although he had allocated two weeks for renovation, the actual changes took two months due to outdated features of the 45-year-old building.

Thomas said that his cousin Salvatore Pappalito plans to open a café in the old Hyde Park Produce location.

On Thursday morning, Thomas and his co-owner Larry Damico were still at the store. Thomas was wearing the same black baseball cap he had donned for the opening, and the two hadn’t yet opened the bottle of champagne they were saving to celebrate the opening. They stayed up all night fixing nonfunctional credit card machines.

Thomas remarked to Damico that it was January 24 and that they had opened only the day before.

“Was that yesterday?” Damico asked, smiling. “It seems so far away.”

“Forget about working hard; it was all worth it,” Thomas said. “I had one of the most gratifying days of my life.”


The January 25 news article "Hyde Park Produce fills grocer void" incorrectly stated that the Hyde Park Co-op Market stopped carrying perishable foods after going bankrupt in December. Under terms of the University buyout, the Co-op was not forced to file for bankruptcy protection.