As Logan Square residents can attest, Chicago’s only community-owned and operated grocery store was well worth the nearly five-year wait. Even before the doors of the Dill Pickle Food Co-op opened at noon this day, soon-to-be-patrons clamored around the entrance, eagerly waiting to set foot inside.
The genuine affection that went into every element of the Co-op is one of the most striking things about the Dill Pickle. The store itself is charming—mint-green walls and exposed pipes, cozy lighting that melts away memories of a freezing Saturday afternoon wind—but it is the strong sense of community that really drives this home. Nearly every other person who enters the store knows someone involved in the Pickle’s success, and they offer their heartfelt congratulations, sometimes accompanied with an effusive bear hug.
Though this is only the soft opening, the excitement is palpable—not just among the grinning board of directors, but among the community members who peruse the store, patiently wending their way through crowded aisles stocked with hard-to-find-foods like miso and hemp milk, staples like peanut butter and crackers, and baskets brimming with colorful locally grown produce.
Handmade signs adorn many of the shelves, giving the back-story on where a bunch of rutabagas hail from or the impetus behind a local entrepreneur’s ice-cream flavors. As much of it as possible is locally grown, organic, fair trade or some combination.
These highly touted criterions tend to come with higher prices, and that’s where the Dill Pickle sends the love right back to its customers and fellow owners. Through a Basic Needs Program, Dill Pickle “aggressively negotiates” for lower prices on basics for its shoppers. Minimal packaging and bulk options also trim unnecessary expenditure. The project was funded completely through community support. “[I] feel a strong sense of gratitude,” says founder Kath Duffy. “Without them the store wouldn’t be open right now.”
“I got like a hundred pictures of you and you’re smiling in like every one,” a photographer tells Duffy.
“I’m probably the person who has been waiting the longest,” she beams. “I’m thrilled.”
The checkout line spills out of the last aisle and around the corner, making the already packed space even more difficult to navigate. Yet no one complains or grimaces. Friends gush to each other and a couple in trapper hats even shares a kiss in front of a freezer case.
“It’s not just a normal grocery store—bringing these healthier foods to become a standard [will] hopefully be a model to future co-ops,” says Katie Wiegman, a volunteer and member who has been on board with the Pickle for eight months. “It’s a great thing for the community volunteers to get to know each other and work toward a sustainable future.” (Emily Torem)