At first glance, an area with a median household income of nearly $95,000 and a per capita income of more than $45,000 should not have problems attracting high-end retailers.
But Olympia Fields, a predominantly black and wealthy community about 30 miles south of Chicago’s Loop, has struggled to persuade big retailers their businesses will find success there.
Its mayor is fighting to change that perception.
Village President Linzey Jones credits a new grocery store in helping his fight to end “retail redlining,” which is when retailers shy away from certain communities because they assume their businesses will fail because of differences in customers’ buying power.
“It’s a combination of race, racial stereotyping and a lack of knowledge,” Jones said. “It’s as if our area has been written off by some retail decision-makers. Despite the numbers, which prove otherwise, it’s an uphill battle for our community.”
The store, Bizios Fresh Market, opened earlier this year and has provided Olympia Fields with a modest increase in sales tax revenue, according to the mayor.
Jones said Olympia Field’s residents’ ability to spend is competitive with that of shoppers from nearby areas to the west and north, places such as Orland Park and Flossmoor.
“I’m trying to emphasize that not only can high-end retailers succeed, but that there is a desire for quality stores,” Jones said. “I’m talking about the Crate and Barrels, the Nieman Marcuses, the Lord & Taylors. There isn’t even a Starbucks in Olympia Fields.”
The new grocery store’s owner, John Bizio, said he is constantly reminded how valuable his store is to the community.
“In the last eight months, I’ve had so many people come up to me and say, ‘Thank you for coming to our community,’” Bizio said of his customers. “African-Americans, whites, they come up to me and kiss me, hug me. They are just so thankful.”
The village’s mayor has encouraged residents to shop at Bizio’s, even going so far as sending a letter to each household that offers discounts to residents who bring it to the store.
“The village is doing a lot to try to get people in my store,” said Bizio, who is originally from Greece. “I came to this community because I thought the neighborhood deserved a store like mine. But there’s not enough business to survive.”
Jones said Bizio’s struggles are a product of hard economic times and is not an indication that the store will not be successful in the future.
“We still need to educate folks about the store and its competitive prices,” Jones said. “People have certain shopping habits and, sometimes, it takes a little longer to bring people around.”
Both Bizio and Jones have had to temper their expectations for the store’s sales.
Jones has projected Bizios to bring in upwards of $100,000 in sales tax revenue per year for Olympia Fields, but he said that number is much higher than reality so far. Bizio expected his store to bring in $120,000-125,000 in sales per week but is averaging closer to $55,000.
“I think we will survive,” Bizio said. “People are well-educated, have big jobs and income is very high. And they need this store.”