Maywood Officials, Blindsided by Aldi’s Decision to Leave, Draw Up a Hail Mary Plan to Keep Store Open

Aldi board meeting.jpg

The Maywood Board of Trustees during a Dec. 14 Legal, License and Ordinance Committee (LLOC) meeting where a plan for retaining Aldi was discussed. | Michael Romain/VFP

Wednesday, December 14, 2016 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews || UPDATED: 11:49 p.m.

After Maywood Trustee Michael Rogers learned about Aldi’s plan to close its only Maywood location at 216 Madison St. by Dec. 24, he made the roughly 40-minute drive to the company’s U.S. headquarters in Batavia, Illinois armed with nothing much more than hope and the first draft of a letter written by Assistant Village Manager David Myers.

“It was a cold call if you will,” Rogers said, recalling Tuesday’s road trip to Batavia, during a Dec. 14 Legal, License and Ordinance Committee (LLOC) meeting. “I drove up there basically on faith, just hoping I would be able to get with someone.”

The bet paid off. Rogers said that, after numerous rounds of bureaucratic negotiations, he was able to land a face-to-face meeting with the company’s vice president.

“A few things. The letter, which I did not share with them [because it had not yet been approved by the board], needs to go to the vice president and it needs to go tomorrow morning, if at all possible.”

That letter, which Myers addressed to Aldi, Inc. Co-president Chuck Youngstrom, channels the community’s desperation while outlining what amounts to a hail mary pass with precious few minutes left in the fourth quarter.

“Closing your store would be a negative, a negative,” Myers read, apparently going off-script from the letter’s written content for added effect, “impact on the quality of life and access to fresh, quality foods for many village residents.”

After arguing that a significant population of low-income shoppers and senior citizens in Maywood would be imperiled with the store’s closing, the letter includes a list of incentives the village would be willing to offer the company in order for it “to operate in a financially sound manner in Maywood.”

Those incentives include a sales rebate agreement, real estate property tax incentives and the use of funds from the village’s Madison St. TIF fund, among other sources of financial relief.

The letter also addresses one of Aldi’s stated reasons for closing the Maywood location. Several Aldi locations, such as those in Bellwood, Broadview and Melrose Park, are within a few miles of the Maywood location, company officials stated.

“Each of those towns has multiple grocery stores. Maywood only has one [Aldi],”  Myers read.

He said that village officials were “blindsided” by the news, adding that the company’s decision had apparently already been made by the time he received a phone call from an Aldi vice president announcing the closing. Myers and other village officials have noted that they still don’t quite know the full reasons why Aldi is shutting down the Madison St. location.

“They had already talked to the employees,” Myers said. “Nevertheless, I said we still would like the opportunity to speak with you. It’s disappointing that we were not able to speak with you before this.”

Myers said that Aldi had even contacted Mayor Edwenna Perkins several months ago about possibly expanding.

“I got a call [that they] were going to build. I was shocked when you called me and let me know that they were having a problem,” Perkins said to Myers during the LLOC meeting.

The letter, which Myers said would be sent to Batavia on behalf of village officials and community members, was just one action in what has been several days of desperation played out on multiple fronts ever since Aldi made its announcement last week.

Some residents have fired off phone calls to trustees, village staff members and even to Aldi’s corporate headquarters, village officials said. Numerous community members have mulled the feasibility of petition campaigns, with at least one, Maywood resident Joellen Hopson, creating a change.org petition that has garnered 72 signatures as of Wednesday night.

Trustee Isiah Brandon, who noted that he spoke with an Aldi executive over the phone several days ago, said he received a desperate call from a woman who lives in River Forest but who shops at the Maywood Aldi. And earlier in the week, he said, he visited two senior living facilities within blocks of Madison Street Aldi.

“They said we should do all we can to save that store,” Brandon recalled the seniors telling him. “I believe that residents must be activated as well because it’s a shared ownership.”

Earlier this week, the blitz of worry at the ground level had resonated with politicians like Cook County Commissioners Richard Boykin (1st) and Jeffrey Tobolski (16th), who both sent off a joint letter to Aldi U.S. CEO Jason Hart.

“Closing the only grocery store in Maywood on Christmas Eve is a travesty,” the letter, made public on Dec. 13, read. In a separate statement, the two commissioners wrote that they “are committed to working with Aldi to determine the availability of county resources or incentives to encourage the company to keep this much-needed grocery store open.”

On Wednesday, Boykin and U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis (7th) announced that they would be holding a press conference regarding the store closing on Thursday afternoon at Village Council Chambers, 125 S. 5th Ave.

But during tonight’s LLOC meeting, Rogers cautioned against appearing too adversarial and taking a tone that might erode the company’s confidence in Maywood as a place to do business without controversy.

“One of the things that is important is the rhetoric,” Rogers said. “We really have to be careful. There were things that were said or read by their executives that were not helpful.”

Rogers didn’t specify the content of that rhetoric, only adding that company officials “were offended by things they read on the internet that they said were mischaracterizations and misinformations.” 

“We have to make sure that the emotional stuff be channeled in a way that does not help,” Rogers said. “We don’t want or need a fight. What we want to do is to compel a corporation to feel like it can be to their business interest to continue. That’s not a fight.”

When asked by his board colleagues whether there was some chance the village’s outreach could persuade Aldi executives to change course, Rogers struck a tone of sober optimism.

“If it was zero chance of having a reversal, I think they might have said that,” Rogers said. “I do think it is an uphill battle, but things change. Normally, corporations that are in retail, if you approach them the right way and early enough, you can be impactful.” VFP

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect the correct location of Boykin’s Thursday press conference. VFP regrets the error. 

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