Eighteenth Ward Ald. Derrick Curtis raises his right hand as he points south towards Evergreen Park to remind the audience that Pete’s has another store just a mile away. Looking on are Pete’s Fresh Market executives Stephanie and Vanessa Dremonas, as well as Emmanuel Bey (left), credited by Curtis for being a catalyst who linked him with the Dremonas family. --Greater Southwest News-Herald Photo by Steve Neuhaus

Eighteenth Ward Ald. Derrick Curtis raises his right hand as he points south towards Evergreen Park to remind the audience that Pete’s has another store just a mile away. Looking on are Pete’s Fresh Market executives Stephanie and Vanessa Dremonas, as well as Emmanuel Bey (left), credited by Curtis for being a catalyst who linked him with the Dremonas family. --Greater Southwest News-Herald Photo by Steve Neuhaus

‘Curtis got it done’

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Pete’s Fresh Market opens at 87/Kedzie

By Tim Hadac

A grand opening that wasn’t supposed to happen…happened in Ashburn this month.

For 18th Ward Ald. Derrick G. Curtis, architect of the development, it was a time of joy and nervous energy.

“I didn’t get any sleep last night,” he told several hundred people at the ribbon cutting of the new Pete’s Fresh Market at 3250 W. 87th St. “I sleep by a window, and the birds were just chirping and singing, so I just started singing with them,” he laughed, as many in the crowd laughed and smiled with him.

The new store is Pete’s 18th—its first in the city in a decade. The fact that it occurred at all raised eyebrows among some, especially after Stephanie Dremonas (a daughter of Pete’s founder James “Jimmy” Dremonas) said publicly back in 2017 that Pete’s had no plans to build any more stores in the city or suburban Cook County.

But there the new Pete’s was, 50 years after a 16-year-old Jimmy Dremonas and his brother opened their first fruit stand at 87th and Stony Island.

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Eighteenth Ward Ald. Derrick Curtis raises his right hand as he points south towards Evergreen Park to remind the audience that Pete’s has another store just a mile away. Looking on are Pete’s Fresh Market executives Stephanie and Vanessa Dremonas, as well as Emmanuel Bey (left), credited by Curtis for being a catalyst who linked him with the Dremonas family. –Greater Southwest News-Herald Photo by Steve Neuhaus

“We believe in community,” Stephanie Dremonas said in brief remarks at the May 15 ribbon cutting. “We’re a family-owned business. We still operate it as a family. My sister is here with me today. This is our 18th store. It’s been 10 years since we opened our last Chicago store. And we have made leaps and bounds from 10 years ago to today. And I’m confident that when you walk in this store, you’re going to see it, you’re going to feel it. We are ready for you, so bring it on,” she added with a smile.

A struggle that paid off

But getting to that point had its share of ups and downs for Curtis.

When he was first elected alderman in 2015, 3250 W. 87th St. was a thriving retail development anchored by a prosperous Ultra Foods supermarket. (Before that, the space was home to a Dominick’s Finer Foods that closed in 2004. Old-timers in the neighborhood recall when the shopping center was a small forest abutting the northern spur of Evergreen Cemetery.)

But when that Ultra location shut down in 2017, a shopping center in decline fell into Curtis’ lap.

At several public meetings back then, Curtis took his lumps from his constituents who were angry that city neighborhoods north of 87th Street lost grocery stores, while a mile south—along 95th Street in suburban Evergreen Park, business was booming.

“[After Ultra closed in 2017], I talked with every grocery store out there,” Curtis said at Pete’s grand opening. “I even went to different states. Everyone told us ‘No’ because coming out of the pandemic was pretty hard. Even Pete’s said ‘No’ at first.”

The alderman credited his neighbor, Emmanuel Bey, with being a catalyst in the situation.

“After Pete’s told me ‘No’ a couple of times because of all the cons of doing business with the city, [Bey] put a meeting together with [the Dremonas family]. He has known them for 30 years.”

The meeting happened, and a deal was struck—terms not disclosed–and the Dremonas family jumped at the chance to completely refurbish the Ultra space. That was a shift in gears for them because they had purchased and bulldozed the vacant Luther South High School on the northeast corner of 87th and Kedzie. That property remains vacant.

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Eighteenth Ward Ald. Derrick Curtis (right) cuts a “grand opening” ribbon with Pete’s Fresh Market executive Stephanie Dremonas. –Greater Southwest News-Herald Photo by Steve Neuhaus

Although this month’s grand opening of Pete’s occurred almost two years after Curtis initially said it would, he said it was fast nonetheless.

“I’ll tell you this: in my early years in City Council, there were a lot of communities that waited over 10 years to have a grocery store in their community,” the alderman said. “And let me tell you: we did this in five years—and three of those years were during the pandemic. So we’re doing very, very great—very great.

“I want to thank the Dremonas family for trusting us, because they didn’t have to be here,” Curtis continued. “They have another store just a mile away,” he added, pointing south toward Evergreen Park. “So we’ve got to make sure we keep coming back, keep coming back, keep coming back.”

Excitement in the neighborhood

“There was a big sign on this store that said it would not be open until May 15,” Curtis said. “But people started showing up on the 12th, the 13th, the 14th—it was amazing. That’s how much the people of this neighborhood want Pete’s here.”

Shoppers who lined up several hours before the doors opened agreed.

“I’ve shopped at Pete’s other locations,” Miriam Williams said. “Their stores are the cleanest and most beautiful I’ve ever seen. The prices are competitive. You’re not going to get a lot of bargains here, but you won’t get gouged like you do at some of these other stores. Pete’s are real ‘people’s’ stores, I think.”

Jordan Norris said he hopes Pete’s “lives up to its promise of hiring locally. If I go in there and don’t see employees and managers who look like me, I won’t be happy and I won’t be silent.”

Tiffany Lofton-Burris said she welcomes Pete’s because she is “tired of [grocery] shopping in Evergreen Park and Oak Lawn. I shop there and they know I’m from north of 87th Street, know what I mean? There’s a vibe. They’ll take our cash, but they make us feel unwanted. I’d much rather [grocery] shop where I live, and now I can. I’m glad [Pete’s] is here, and so are my neighbors. This is our new place to shop. [Alderman] Curtis got it done for the neighborhood.”

David Sánchez contributed to this story.

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