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"Green" Southport Jewel Opens Today

By Anthony Todd in Food on Oct 21, 2010 3:00PM

Today, the new Jewel store on Southport (3630 N. Southport Ave.) opens for business after a long period of construction. The former store on the same site, demolished in 2009, had been in business for more then 30 years. The new store is twice as big and brimming with claims of greenness. We got a chance to tour the new facility yesterday before it was open to the public, and to talk with a number of representatives from Jewel. While there are some genuinely awesome things about the new store, which we applaud, there are also some unanswered questions about its environmental credentials.

First, the positives. The store has a huge selection of prepared foods, both ready to eat in-store and to heat up at home. These include sushi, breakfast, lunch and dinner specials, rotisserie meats and a panini bar that had us drooling. The standard Jewel "fried foods bar" is still there, though slightly diminished in size, and great olive and salad bars fill out that side of the store. The store also has a greatly expanded Kosher section, including special sections for kosher meats, cheeses and frozen foods, and they will process kosher meat on-site, under the proper supervision. The liquor supply is copious, and includes a great new feature, a build-your-own sixpack section with individual microbrews to mix and match.

The architecture of the store is quite impressive. The store has a lot of Chicago touches, from huge vintage pictures on the walls to aisles named after city streets. The store will be certified LEED silver and boasts a green roof, LED lighting, centralized efficient climate control and other "green" features. The entire front of the store is made of glass, with huge, inviting windows which beckon in passerby.

Unfortunately, this commitment to sustainability doesn't seem to extend to the most of the actual food in the store. Questions about local sourcing were met with vague answers, most of which came down to "wait and see" or "maybe, if customers want them." A Jewel representative discussing the new meat department (which doesn't offer any organic or local meat) bragged that the "natural" chickens were "free of antibiotics and growth hormones." Since this is federal law for all chickens sold in the U.S. (and one of our least favorite attempts at greenwashing) we were a bit skeptical. The store also seems to have a slight vocabulary problem, confusing locally sourced with locally processed. The flower department bragged that its products were "local" because the bouquets were processed and manufactured by an Illinois company... with flowers flown in from overseas. Similarly, meat that is "processed" at local slaughterhouses may or may not be locally grown, and without more information we cannot evaluate those claims.

To their great credit, the store's representatives seemed very open to customer demands, so we would suggest that any residents of the neighborhood who care about local and sustainable food talk to the various department managers and employees. All in all, Jewel is definitely moving on the right track, and we're glad to see the expanded offerings. We'd still advocate visiting farmers markets and local butcher shops for most of your meat and produce, but we'll probably stop in at Jewel for a panini very soon.