Valli Produce opened its enlarged, 70,000-square-foot store in Evanston with a ribbon cutting ceremony at the site of the former Dominick’s market in the Evanston Plaza shopping center this morning.

Alderman Braithwaite addressing the grand opening crowd.

Alderman Peter Braithwaite, whose 2nd Ward includes the shopping center, praised the company’s efforts to hire locally — saying 85 percent of the new store’s 120 employees are Evanston residents.

Kids from Dance Center Evanston in the plaza were on hand to cheer the store’s opening.

Carmine Presta.

Store manager Carmine Presta thanked the city’s elected officials and economic development staff for supporting the company’s expansion into Evanston. The store here is the family-owned grocer’s sixth market.

Presta said Valli also plans to eventually renovate the entire Evanston Plaza complex. He called the store opening the start of a long-lasting relationship with Evanston and said the company would work hard to make Evanston proud of Valli.

Valli announced plans to buy the shopping center, and Safeway’s lease on the former Dominick’s building, last summer and unveiled its plans for expanding the store from 58,000 to 70,000 square feet early last fall.

Presta says that because Valli doesn’t have an off-site warehouse, it needed to expand the store’s footprint to be able to have the space to keep the market fully stocked.

A $2 million package of financial assistance for the project from the city, structured as a 10-year forgivable loan, is expected to be repaid by anticipated increased tax revenue from the tax increment financing district created for the shopping center in 2011.

The City Council approved that aid package but some aldermen said they were unwilling to support the idea of committing additional city funds for the planned renovation of the rest of the shopping center.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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