Independent grocery eyeing Dempster-Dodge Dominick’s spot

Valli Produce, a thriving independent grocery chain located primarily in the northwest suburbs, is eyeing subleasing the former Dominick's space at the Evanston Plaza Shopping Center, at Dempster St., and Dodge Ave.
Valli Produce, a thriving independent grocery chain located primarily in the northwest suburbs, is eyeing subleasing the former Dominick's space at the Evanston Plaza Shopping Center, at Dempster St., and Dodge Ave.
Bob Seidenberg
bseidenberg@pioneerlocal.com | @evanstonscribe
July 9 12:58 p.m.

Frank Chilelli, one of Valli Produce Inc., owners, remembers when he was a UPS driver in Evanston and the Dempster-Dodge shopping center was along his route.

“I know the street very well, every cranny,” he said.

He also knows the shopping center at Evanston Plaza and what it will take to bring a thriving supermarket to the area.

The fast-growing independent grocery chain is eyeing a possible deal to open a 70,000 square foot supermarket at the old Dominick’s site on the southwest corner of Dodge Ave.

The deal on the space isn’t closed yet, Chilelli cautioned on Wednesday. If it goes through, he’s confident that Valli, with its deep selection of specialty items, ethnic foods and fresh produce would be a “good fit,” with the area.

City officials had said earlier that an independent grocer was a more likely candidate to succeed Dominick’s at Dempster-Dodge after the chain pulled out of the Chicago area at the end of last year.

Whole Foods is in the process of remodeling the city’s other Dominick’s store, at 2748 Green Bay Road, to open next year.

Owners Frank Chilelli, Afredo Presta and Lou Tenuta, along with family members, run Valli stores. The stores are named after its founders’ former home, a small farm town in southern Italy, and are family-run.

They opened up their first store, at 10,500 square feet, in Arlington Heights in 1989, a year after Chilelli left his UPS route.

The chain has since expanded to five stores, with the Rockford store its largest at 100,000 square feet.

If Valli Produce comes to Evanston, customers “will find everything they would find at a conventional chain store like Jewel or Dominick’s, plus we specialize in produce,” Chilelli said.

Buyers for Valli’s make daily trips to the South Water Market in Chicago to purchase produce. The store stocks hundreds of hard-to-find items marketed in other stores as gourmet, or specialty, and offers them at reasonable prices, according to the company’s website, valliproduce.com.

Chilelli said the independent chain doesn’t view Whole Foods, which will soon have three stores in Evanston, as a competitor.

“They have their niche, we have ours,” he said. “We work in volume,” he said.

With all the different selections and products, Valli is looking to draw customers not only from Evanston but Skokie and all over, he said.

The shopping center’s past history should not be an impediment.

“I mean everybody’s got to eat,” Chilelli said. “We’re going to offer a lot of great deals, not just on sale but every day.”

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