There would be nearly 100 new supermarket branches in Chicago by yearend, if plans announced by a handful of banks come to fruition.

BankAmerica Corp., which has the largest network of supermarket banks in Chicago - 52 - said last week it would add another 70 by Dec. 31.

First Chicago NBD Corp. said it wants to increase its already dominant customer base in its hometown by adding 24 grocery store branches this year, giving it a total of 45.

A smaller player, St. Paul Bancorp, said last week it would add three to four supermarket banks to its existing 17.

The announcements by the two big banks are the latest grenades lobbed in a war to establish the largest network of supermarket branches in Chicago. Neither First Chicago nor BankAmerica said they're being influenced by the other's actions, but each has substantially expanded its grocery store network over the past year.

BankAmerica got things started in the middle of last year, announcing it would build a branch system in Chicago from scratch by opening new offices throughout the city's largest supermarket chain, Jewel Food Stores.

"The response from consumers has exceeded our expectations," said Lisa Hewitt, a spokeswoman for BankAmerica in Chicago. "We continue to be very bullish about the potential in this market."

Though First Chicago NBD says it's simply following a strategy it started a few years ago, it has clearly accelerated its pace of area supermarket branch openings since BankAmerica stepped in. First Chicago has a deal with Dominick's Finer Foods Inc., Chicago's No. 2 supermarket chain with 100 stores. Thomas Kelly, a bank spokesman, said First Chicago continues to talk with Dominick's about opening new branches.

BankAmerica has the option of expanding in all 172 Jewel stores in Chicago and its suburbs. The San Francisco company already has automated teller machines in all Chicago-area Jewel stores.

Even with BankAmerica's planned expansion, First Chicago would still have the largest supermarket network in the area by yearend with 160 branches. The company is closing five full-service branches as a result of the new supermarket locations, but Mr. Kelly said First Chicago isn't planning any large-scale branch closures along the lines of what BankAmerica and Wells Fargo are doing in California.

Jewel's parent, American Stores Co., also owns the Lucky Stores Inc. chain, which has an agreement with BankAmerica in California. Thirty percent of BankAmerica's home-state branches are in supermarkets.

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