Nestled in a row of eateries, florists, and corner stores along 55th Street sits Open Produce, a micro-grocery that has provided neighbors with fresh produce, locally made dry goods, and community bike tools for more than a decade.
Ambient conversation and a bright interior greet customers as they enter Open Produce’s historic space. Built in the early 1960s, the building at 1635 E. 55th St. has lost none of its charm, and the level of thought and detail become immediately clear to a patron, as they survey the arrangement of goods stretching to the ceiling on built-in shelves. Labels are written by hand, noting origin and details of goods, along with anecdotes about the products. Among its many vaunted features, the store affords the neighborhood with fresh local bread, including baked goods from the nearby Medici on 57th, as well as produce from farms across the Midwest.
The store’s $1 groceries and free bread bins offer excess produce and baked goods for patrons in a pinch. This has the twofold function of reducing food waste and hunger throughout the neighborhood. Link cards are accepted and promoted as a method of payment, increasing access for all. Opening at 8am. and closing at midnight affords the night shift and the early risers the ability to access groceries when few other places in the neighborhood are up and running.
The niche neighborhood market was opened in 2008 by three friends and recent University of Chicago graduates: Andrew Cone, Gabriela Russek, and Steven Lucy. After spending a few years working in the corporate world—in trading and computer programming—the three friends reunited with a lofty goal of selling organic, ethically sourced, and culturally diverse goods, though they had trouble securing loans for the startup. When banks denied them, they borrowed $30,000 from friends and family and charged another $10,000 on a credit card.
After several grocery store closures in the neighborhood, a recession, and pandemic, Open Produce is still going strong.
Today the warm, old fashioned chalkboard above the produce section is colorfully adorned with a drawing of tomatoes and a smiling sun, stating, “Summer is tomato season and every season is friendly season.”
Open Produce, 1635 E. 55th St. Daily 8am-12am. (773) 496-4327. openproduce.org