Recent events in the Hyde Park grocery situation have cast a shadow of destitution over the appetites of many of the area’s residents. Because the Co-op on 55th Street, Hyde Park’s major grocer, is scheduled for departure on the January 28 and has stopped carrying perishable inventory, its customers have unwillingly been converted into vehement “vegetarians” whose cause is not that of animal rights but one of wanting to prepare a well-balanced meal. Well, Hyde Park, as of this Wednesday you can finally appease your growling stomachs with what you have been waiting for. The Hyde Park Produce family is ready to satisfy all of your hunger pangs.
In case your curiosity hasn’t already compelled you to take a look at what has been going on in the 53rd Street Co-op’s former location in Kimbark Plaza, it has been the projected location for Hyde Park’s beloved Hyde Park Produce. For many of the produce store’s loyal customers, these past few months have been characterized by an absence of a few of the store’s familiar faces that have provided them with quality produce for the past thirteen years–most recognizably Mr. “Yo-Yo” Damico–whose friendliness and cheerful demeanor are just as inseparable from the Hyde Park Produce shopping experience as his signature cigar is from his smile.
Joining Yo-Yo in the business are his son Larry Damico and nephew Ron Thomas, all of whom are native to Chicago’s South Side. When a joint-ownership of the produce store began only thirteen years ago between Yo-Yo and his son, by no means were they unfamiliar with the Hyde Park community, or, rather, by no means was the Hyde Park community unfamiliar with them. Customers of Mr. G.’s 53rd St Co-op grocery store had been eating Yo-Yo’s produce for twenty-five years before they took up the small store a few doors down, and judging by the immense array of fresh fruits and vegetables available within the store’s positive atmosphere, the community knew that when it came to eating well they were well taken care of.
Although produce has occupied the forefront of the family’s expertise over the years, the little store sought to provide much more to its customers. For years they had been considering an expansion but had been waiting for the opportune time to take action. Fortunately their customers’ loyalty and the closing down of the 53rd St Co-op provided the perfect means for allowing this group of wholesalers to realize their dream of having the necessary space for all the inventory they’d truly enjoy providing. HPP had come full circle, literally, ending up where it had started as a shelf-presence so many years ago. “The angle of the store is to be more green. We’ll probably end up being about forty-percent organic,” says Larry, who began to carry organic produce in Hyde Park Produce about six years ago after having seen first-hand the improved quality and increased affordability of organic produce. The organic principle is not merely confined to produce, but extends to all of the packaged meat that they plan on adding to their inventory, which includes fish, will also boast of its organic origin. Hyde Park Produce will also provide separate sections for goods like dairy, frozen foods, and non-perishable goods alongside a produce playground that alone will rival the size of the former store. “We believe the neighborhood deserves this,” Larry adds.
Reciprocating Hyde Park Produce’s affection for the community, many eager customers have increasingly become anxious to experience the new space. Curiosity has pushed many passers-by to try to sneak a peek into the store through the spaces in-between the sheets of produce ads. As the renovation of the space nears completion, Ron sees no problem in inviting these passers-by inside (when time allows, of course), which illustrates that although the produce store will be attracting a larger consumer audience, loyal customers can still expect to find the same hospitality that animated the former store, but in a more relaxed and spacious environment. For this business, customers really do come first.
It’s precisely because the customers come first that the owners have pushed opening day from last August to the 23rd of this January, and for those who had seen the place under previous ownership, the delay is understandable. Built in the 60s, the inside of the space had run-down while its prices had gone up, and yet locals had no choice but to shop there unless they wanted to walk to 55th Street or go vegan and live off of Hyde Park Produce. “We gutted the place,” adds Larry, “The only thing that was left was the ductwork.”
Since Hyde Park Produce’s overhaul of the space, walking inside is comparable to stepping into an unimaginable world, and once the place is open to the public, its attention to food quality in addition to its overall appearance will convince everyone in Hyde Park that a grocery store can simultaneously do business in the area and satisfy its residents. Imagine eating the same Hyde Park Produce guacamole prepared in a refrigerated back room which had been inspired by a desire to make it taste even better than before, or deli items aside, or being able to push around a shopping cart and actually allowing your eyes to pick out more than your arms themselves can hold. This may sound like a Stepford Wives fantasy, but it’s meaningful for those who routinely maneuver through HPP’s cramped maze. Without a doubt, the appearance, the technology, and the atmosphere of the newest addition to the Hyde Park community is enough to convince the masses that grocery shopping will be a legitimate use of a sick day from work or class this upcoming Wednesday.
It sounds damn schmaltzy, but although very appreciative of all of the compliments they have received on the look of the new store, Yo-Yo, Larry, and Ron know that its looks are only partially representative of their accomplishment. Yo-Yo, Larry, and Ron’s new store is more than just a finished project; it is a dream which we have all been invited to experience. When asked whether he ever had any doubts along the way, Larry admitted that there was never any doubt about what they were doing, and that it was difficult to remain patient while they made sure everything was completed just as it ought to be. Concerning the store’s fast-approaching grand opening, the Hyde Park Produce team could not be more enthusiastic. After having spent his entire day at work on the new store, Ron added, “I’ve been working hard all my life. I want to have fun now. We want to have fun with this.” Judging by the gleaming new store and the dedication of the people behind it, they won’t be the only ones enjoying it.