A businesswoman looking to start a brick-and-mortar grocery store in the Austin neighborhood has a plan to address the famous imbalance of commercial activity between the West Side community and Oak Park, its neighbor to the west.
Liz Abunaw, 39, is the founder of Forty Acres Fresh Market — a for-profit provider of affordable, fresh produce that has received around $335,000 in grants within the last year in order to expand its operations, which include regular pop-up markets in Austin, a brick-and-mortar store that Abunaw hopes to build on Chicago Avenue sometime in the foreseeable future, and an online service that facilitates daily drop-offs of fruits and vegetables on the West Side and in the western suburbs.
Oak Park, Abunaw said, is Forty Acres' biggest market for delivery outside of Austin. She said she hopes the funding will allow her to grow her footprint in Oak Park as well as River Forest, even as she plans a permanent presence on the West Side.
"Our delivery site is still a little cumbersome, but it works and we get them," Abunaw said in a recent interview. "We're working on finding a developer to upgrade our order site. We want a good, clean customer experience."
Abunaw said part of the recent funding will go to upgrade Forty Acres' website. Last year, the market received $185,000 from the Healthy Food Financing Initiative and $150,000 from the American Heart Association.
In Austin, Abunaw is working with the Westside Health Authority, a long-established social service organization in the city, as well as Austin Village Chicago - Special Service Area 72 (also known as SSA 72) to help her get her business off the ground.
A Special Service Area is a way for city communities to leverage tax revenue in order to boost local economic growth. In each SSA, property owners pay additional taxes to help fund things like streetscape improvements, among other enhancements and resources. Westside Health Authority is the service provider for SSA 72 — the only Special Service Area in Austin.
"For several decades, Austin residents have expressed an interest in a local option for fresh fruits and vegetables," Morris Reed, CEO of Westside Health Authority, said last year when Forty Acres received the Healthy Food Financing grant. "This project not only addresses the community desire to have healthy choices, but also provides investment into a growing retail environment along the Austin cultural corridor, stretching west of Chicago on Chicago Avenue."
Forty Acres' delivery service introduces an interesting dynamic in the relationship between residents on both sides of Austin Boulevard. The more suburban residents west of that invisible divide buy produce from Forty Acres, the more money the company will have to put toward building its brick-and-mortar store in Austin, Abunaw said.
The dynamic works to reverse what has for years been a notoriously one-sided exchange, with Austin residents spending their dollars in Oak Park due to a lack of commercial options in their neighborhood while Oak Parkers rarely, if ever, shop in Austin.
"So much money gets spent from Austin in Oak Park," Abunaw said. "It's important to have a better balance of trade between the two neighborhoods. There's no reason why Austin Boulevard should be an invisible barrier. Money comes in one way and out the other."
To learn more about Forty Acres Fresh Market, visit: fortyacresfreshmarket.com/.
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