CHICAGO (CBS) — Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel on Thursday praised the Save-A-Lot grocery store chain for taking steps to reduce the number of so-called “food deserts” in Chicago by building five new stores and promising to build 30 by 2015.

An estimated 600,000 Chicago residents live in food deserts — areas of the city without easy access access to grocery stores that sell fresh fruits and vegetables. Most of those food deserts are located on the city’s South Side.

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Emanuel said he has been working with executives from Save-A-Lot since the middle of his campaign on building new grocery stores in those food deserts. He said the St. Louis-based chain is building five new stores by the end of the year and has committed to build 30 more stores throughout Chicago over the next four years.

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“The notion that people do not have access to fresh fruits and vegetables is unconscionable in my view and you cannot have that today,” Emanuel said.
“Our family has access within a mile to four or five options. That’s just not true in parts of our city. We’re going to turn that around. That’s about turning the page and making a new future for our city.”

Emanuel said that, in addition to working with Save-A-Lot, he plans to convene a summit of grocery store owners to address the city’s food desert problems.

“I’m going to convene a meeting in my office of every major grocer and minor grocer and they have to present their plan for the entire city and lay out what their vision is so that the entire city gets served,” Emanuel said. “So, over the next term, we will make major reductions in that 600,000 number.”

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Emanuel noted that the stores provide economic development by providing 20 to 30 full-time jobs at each store — not counting the number of construction jobs to build each store — and can attract other new retailers to their communities.