What future will bring, however, still unclearUnease and uncertainty abound at 127th and Ridgeland in the wake of last week’s announcement that Safeway will close all 72 Chicago-area Dominick’s stores within the next few months.
“This is not a good time to be unemployed, and I have to say I’m scared,” said Dave, one of several Dominick’s employees who spoke only on condition of full or partial anonymity. “Over the years, there have been so many rumors [about Dominick’s stores closing], we’ve learned to live with that and almost ignore it. So in that light, this [announcement] hit us like a bomb.”
The Palos Heights Dominick’s had dodged bullets in the past.
In 2004 Safeway shut a dozen Dominick’s, including its Oak Forest store on 159th Street and an Oak Lawn store near 111th and Cicero.
In 2007, doors were closed at 14 Dominick’s, including the Crestwood store near 131st and Cicero and the Bridgeview unit at 89th and Harlem.
In 2011, Safeway closed the Dominick’s in Orland Park, near 151st and La Grange Road.
“I’ve worked at Dominick’s for years, and I’m not looking forward to losing all my seniority and starting at the bottom of the ladder in some non-union grocery store — if I get a job, that is,” added another employee at the store. “This is not the type of news I was hoping for as we head towards Christmas.”
The dozens of employees at the store — long represented by the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) Local 881 — have been working without a new contract for a year, according to Local 881 President Ronald E. Powell.
While four Dominick’s stores — including the one on Bell Road in Homer Glen — are being purchased by Jewel/Osco, most locations are question marks at the moment.
Regarding the Palos Heights unit and other stores with uncertain futures, Powell said, “We don’t know yet the status of those stores. But once we know who the new owners are, Local 881 will sit down and negotiate a collective bargaining agreement that will be fair to the new employers and importantly, will fairly compensate the employees who will be charged with building the business.”
Another Palos Heights Dominick’s employee called Powell’s prediction “posturing” and “cold comfort.”
“If Aldi or Food4Less or some joe-blow warehouse store comes in here, we won’t even be in a union,” said the staffer as he gathered shopping carts in the parking lot. “I don’t think the union has done much for us — at least not that I can see.”
Customers expressed disappointment and even anger with Safeway’s decision.
“I’ve shopped at Dominick’s for 30 years. I rely on this place. I enjoy shopping here on Saturdays. This is my store,” said Palos Heights resident Joan Henkel. Ever since Safeway took over [in 1998], they’ve done nothing but tinker and mess things up.
“They got rid of the Dominick’s [house] brands and brought in new items that nobody wanted,” she continued. “Two years ago, they completely mishandled the Just 4 U coupon program. Then there was that scandal where [coupon blogger] Jill Cataldo found all the outdated food sitting on shelves at Dominick’s. The only thing that stayed the same was the friendliness of the workers — and sadly, they’re the ones who will suffer most.”
Echoing the assertion was Bill Davies of Worth. “[Dominick’s] used to have a slogan that ‘Our store is your store.’ I guess we learned that’s nothing but an empty advertising jingle. Where will I shop [after the store closes]? I have no idea,” he said.
Beyond the fate of the employees and the convenience of grocery shoppers, the coming shutdown poses yet another dilemma for the Indian Trails shopping center, already struggling in a continued sluggish economy and pocked with vacant storefronts and the black eye of a still-shuttered Bakers Square restaurant on a high-visibility outlot.
Palos Heights officials say they are on top of the situation.
“We have already spoken with Dominick’s corporate [officials], and we will work with them to market the property,” said Palos Heights City Administrator Dan Nisavic. “We will also do some marketing ourselves. It’s early [in the process], but we are moving forward.”
Nisavic predicted that the Dominick’s store and gas station will be sold off separately. He added that the impact of the loss of sales tax revenue from Dominick’s will not be felt until months into 2014. Last year Alderman Jack Clifford said Dominick’s was in the top four among sales tax generators in the city.
Some customers tried to find a silver lining in the cloud. “It’s not good that we’re losing Dominick’s, but I don’t think everyone needs to be so glum,” said Patti Quasny of Palos Park. “Hopefully, this is an opportunity to get an upgrade. I hope the people in charge [in Palos Heights] get on the phone with Mariano’s or some other top-quality company and get them in here. It can be done, I think.”