Pretend grocery stores became ubiquitous in America in the 1960s and 1970s.
Now that they’ve been phased out, their story is a cautionary tale of what happens when the internet turns into a major force.
With all the new food, drink and entertainment options, Pretend’s story may sound familiar.
Pretend was founded in 1996 by a couple of college roommates in Chicago, Illinois.
They wanted to build a place where families could go grocery shopping, get groceries and eat at home.
The first Pretend location was at the corner of Wacker Drive and West Grand Boulevard in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood.
But it was the opening of the first Pretends in Chicago in 2004 that changed the grocery store landscape forever.
In a town where most stores are located in the basement of buildings, Pretends were the first store to be open on the sidewalk and in the middle of a residential neighborhood.
“That was a very important moment in our life,” says Melissa Gartrell, who owned Pretends at the time.
She says the store had more than 100 employees by the time Pretends closed in 2013.
The store’s opening drew a lot of attention, and the community was very welcoming.
“I think we opened with an expectation of, ‘We want to open in a very good neighborhood and we’re going to be welcoming to everyone,'” says Gartrel.
Gartruff says it was also a big opportunity for the store to attract people from around the world.
“A lot of people in Chicago came and went here and wanted to buy food.
It was very different than a supermarket.
Pretends was kind of a hub of the community, and people really took to it,” she says.
The stores success helped build the community.
“People felt like Pretends had this place that was their home, and we had this kind of an identity that was our community,” says Gattrell.
In 2014, the city began to roll out a new, more stringent permitting process for new grocery stores.
The city was considering an ordinance that would allow the opening only in certain neighborhoods.
For example, the new ordinance requires a zoning variance for Pretends, and it prohibits the store from opening on public streets.
The City of Chicago’s new guidelines, though, would allow for a lot more.
It would allow a store that opened in a “good” neighborhood to be in a nearby commercial district that is “open to the public.”
The new zoning guidelines, the guidelines for which are now under review, would also require the store’s owner to open on public property.
So while the city is now considering its ordinance, Pretenders opening in the Chicago neighborhood of North Austin is the first one to open since 2012.
“It’s a great opportunity to bring people from across the country and people that were previously not interested to come into this neighborhood,” says Robert Wessels, a senior vice president with Pretends.
He says that Pretends opening in North Austin also gives the company an opportunity to expand its customer base.
“The fact that they’re able to do this in North Texas, it means that we’re able in North America to bring in a lot people that are already part of the Pretenders community,” he says.
But for now, Pretains is still in the midst of getting the permits.
Gattrill says that while she’s proud of the business she and her husband built, she’s not particularly happy about the outcome.
“We were really excited about opening a store in this neighborhood and then being denied,” she said.
“But I think we’re all in this together, and this is our opportunity to be here and have a place that people can go to and shop.”
And with the city of Chicago now deciding to approve a new permit, the Pretends store will continue to operate in the North Austin neighborhood, until they decide to close.
The grocery store has closed, but the community is still coming to terms with the loss of its food source.
The Pretends’ opening in 2016 helped to revitalize a neighborhood that was in decline for years, and now has a thriving community of locals who come to eat at Pretends on a regular basis.
“You’ve got a lot in the neighborhood that’s not really there anymore,” says Adam Kallman, who owns a nearby bar.
He remembers seeing the store at the start of the 1990s, and that’s when Pretends first opened.
“And it was a really exciting moment in the community and a really nice place to be,” he said.
The community has always had a lot to say about Pretends and its success.
But while many people welcomed the Pretens opening, there are many who still don’t like the idea of Pretends closing.
“In North Austin, we’ve had a long history of gentrification,” says Kallmans cousin, Scott Kallmann.
“Our neighborhood has a