Fittest loser
Article updated: 12/18/2013 7:49 AM

Uncle Joe's grocery will not open in Rolling Meadows

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The bad news that many people in Rolling Meadows had been expecting hit Tuesday night when Mayor Tom Rooney announced that the long-awaited Uncle Joe's Tuscan Fresh Market will not be opening in the all but abandoned shopping center that once housed a Dominick's.

Rooney said he got the news in a phone conversation with Fritz L. Duda Jr. of Clark Street Development, which purchased the property from foreclosure in 2012.

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Dominick's left the site almost a decade ago, and the center on Kirchoff Road in the heart of the city has been mostly vacant for years.

"At the conclusion of the phone call it was like one of those things on the television shows where somebody's working on somebody and realizes it is futile," said Rooney, saying that Uncle Joe's has failed to secure the necessary financing "after a bit of redirection internally that had closed some of the financing doors they were counting on."

Nervous residents have asked about the store, which was supposed to open a few months ago in the shopping center at 2915 Kirchoff Road, and city officials have truthfully answered that the owner was trying to finalize financing, Rooney said.

Louie Ruffolo, who had a long involvement with the Caputo family of grocers, eventually said he was the only owner of Uncle Joe's. Originally it was announced that Nat Caputo of that family was involved with the project.

"Nobody is more disappointed than I am," said the mayor, who made the news that a new company started by people associated with the Caputos would open in the shopping center the highlight of his state of the city address in February.

Clark Street still plans to make a grocery-oriented store the anchor of the shopping center, Rooney said at a city council meeting, and is reaching out to Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart said earlier this year that it wanted to make Rolling Meadows one of the first suburban locations for its Walmart Neighborhood Market grocery stores. Company officials have proposed building on the site of an old AMF bowling alley nearby at 3245 Kirchoff Road, but city officials have expressed concern about infrastructure issues such as truck traffic on Library Road.

"Clark Street being in cahoots so to speak with the city, we would welcome the Walmart market as an option," said Rooney, adding that, "A produce shop like Uncle Joe's was supposed to be would still be a great use for that area."

Rooney acknowledged after the meeting that Safeway Inc.'s decision to leave the Chicago area where it has 72 stores could make recruiting a new grocer more difficult, although he said some companies might find available Dominick's stores too close to their existing locations.

"Some folks are going to be left out of getting a Dominick's location," Rooney said, "and Clark Street can say, 'Don't forget we have a site right here.'"

The sales tax sharing deal that Rolling Meadows reached with Uncle Joe's would not necessarily go to another company, said Rooney, especially since he says it is more appropriate to give financial help to a start up than to an established company.

Last year the city gave Clark Street $720,000 remaining in a tax increment financing district fund established for the site in 1988, and the city council has supported a property tax break for the development. The TIF money will have to be returned if the building is not occupied.

The city has long struggled to get the site with 133,000 square feet of gross leasable space redeveloped, and Rooney has called it Rolling Meadows' "armpit."

"For the next month I'll be the guy trying to get egg off my face," Rooney said.

Grocery: Walmart market proposed for Kirchoff Road

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