Englewood Whole Foods closes after only 6 years in the neighborhood, leaving few healthy alternatives

Phillip Backstrol was thrilled when a Whole Foods Market opened in Englewood six years ago. The 65-year-old neighborhood resident prefers to shop there for the diversity of organic vegetables.

“I thought it was great,” Backstrol said.

Now Backstrol has to drive somewhere else to find the comprehensive range of fruits and vegetables.

On Friday, the company announced plans to close the Englewood store, which had opened with a bang as an anchor for a large development at 63rd and Halsted streets in an area long considered a food drought.

Another store, at the DePaul University Welcome Center in Lincoln Park, is also among six U.S. stores that the chain plans to close in the coming months, although officials have not set any dates for the closure.

“As we continue to position Whole Foods Market for long-term success, we regularly evaluate the performance and growth potential of each of our stores, and we have made the difficult decision to close six stores,”[ads1]; a Whole Foods spokesman said in a written statement.

The announcement to close one of the company’s two South Side stores – it has a dozen in Chicago, mostly on the North Side – comes just two days after it opened a nearly 66,000-square-foot location on 3 W. Chicago Ave. in a Chicago high-rise.

The company did not provide information on how the two stores that have closed have performed financially, although Amazon, which owns Whole Foods, on Thursday announced its first quarterly loss since 2015.

Shoppers at the Englewood location were shocked Friday when they heard they lost not only a large grocery store, but also a local hub; the store had been the site of community meetings, wine tastings and other events.

Lashay Shambley, who works nearby at Chase Bank on 62nd Street and Western Avenue, said she’s not sure where to get lunch now.

“It’s nothing but Popeyes, McDonald’s and Wendy’s,” said Shambley, 21. “I kind of saw Whole Foods as a healthy escape.”

Customers leave Whole Foods Market in Englewood on Friday, the same day the company announced that the store would close.

Customers leave Whole Foods Market in Englewood on Friday, the same day the company announced that the store would close.

Closure “devastating”

Local Ald. Stephanie Coleman, 16, said she was “blindsided” by Friday’s “devastating” announcement.

“This is disappointing news that Whole Foods has decided to close the doors to our only grocery store with fresh foods and fresh ingredients,” said Coleman, who accused the chain of “relinquishing” its commitment to society.

“When I think of other communities on the north side of Streeterville and River North, they have more grocery stores. … From Englewood to Edgewater we should have the same opportunities, the same resources, the same retail opportunities as everyone else, no matter what zip code we have . »

Since the store first opened, an Aldi and a Go Green Community Fresh market have opened along the same block, but these stores have nowhere near the range of offerings as a full-service grocery store.

Still, some said the news was not surprising. While the store initially offered cheaper prices than other Whole Foods locations, many complained that the exclusive chain was too expensive for the area.

“They said they were going to have lower prices for Englewood, but they did not really make that promise,” said a nearby resident, who did not want his name used.

Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th), whose departmental boundary is across the street from the store, said she was not at all surprised that the store, mockingly known as “Whole Paycheck”, closed.

“Whole Foods was just expensive. And there were many who did not shop there, she said.

“I got paid, and I can not afford Whole Foods. It’s not cheap. “

Apart from the loss of a grocery store, the business was a major attraction for the area. Workers at other businesses in the 5.5-acre Englewood Square development – which includes a Starbucks and a Chipotle – said the store was definitely picking up customers.

«Just like any place, [shoppers] look around and see another store, and you will see what they have, ”said Malcom Silas, an employee at the DTLR fashion store, who said that shoppers with Whole Foods bags often came to his store a few doors down.

Still, while Silas said his store is likely to lose something, he does not think it will have any major impact overall.

$ 11 million city aid

The gloomy atmosphere on Friday was far from the excitement in 2013 after Whole Foods agreed to open in the poor area after relentless pressure from the then mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The project relied on a $ 11 million city grant to prepare the site. In addition to the tax-increasing funding, Englewood Square relied on $ 15 million in subsidies from the New Markets Tax Credit Program launched by President Bill Clinton in 1999.

Another $ 500,000 came through crowdfunding, the first time it was used to fund new commercial construction in Chicago.

In addition, both developer and main contractor Ujamaa Construction are African-owned; the same is Power Construction, a contractor that carried out the development of Whole Foods.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel celebrated Whole Foods when it opened in Englewood Square in September 2016.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel celebrated Whole Foods when it opened in Englewood Square in September 2016.

At the grand opening celebration in September 2016, people waited in long queues to enter the 18,000 square meter store.

Emanuel and Whole Foods co-CEO Walter Robb were joined by a number of politicians, including US Representative Bobby Rush, D-Ill., And leaders of community organizations who worked closely with the project, including Teamwork Englewood and the Resident Association of Greater Englewood.

Whole Foods officials have previously said the store has around 100 employees, including many who lived in the area. The store also had a variety of products from local businesses.

“It showed real promise, and I think it continues to show real promise on how retailers can meet the needs of the community and work with the community to help design something that was unique and important,” said Cecile DeMello, CEO of Teamwork Englewood , Friday.

Emanuel, now the US ambassador to Japan, did not respond to a text message requesting comment. His former planning and development commissioner, David Reifman, declined to comment.

Shoppers lined up and celebrated Whole Foods when it opened in Englewood Square in September 2016.

Shoppers lined up and celebrated Whole Foods when it opened in Englewood Square in September 2016.

The agreement requires a merchant on site through 2027

What comes next is unclear.

Before the city land that includes Whole Foods was sold to developer Leon Walker for $ 1, the city council approved a redevelopment agreement that requires a grocery store to be located on that package through 2027.

That means Walker must find a merchant to occupy the site, sources said.

Walker confirmed in an interview Friday that officials are actively looking for a new tenant. No timeline is set.

“We are working with the city and the councilors and the community to find the best replacement operation to take advantage of this opportunity,” he said.

Ald. Taylor said it was important for the city to either attract another food chain or develop “our own home-grown grocer.”

“However, we must do something. We can not waste the TIF money. And society needs a grocery store. “

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement that her administration “will work to reuse these places in a way that continues to serve the community and support the surrounding businesses. We as a city will continue to work hard to close food deserts that meet the needs of the community with community” at the table.”

Coleman said they will take a closer look at what other food droughts have done to provide for the residents while maintaining an area that is attractive for business investment.

“We’ll make sure we have a grocery store not just until 2027, but until 2097, so my grandchildren’s kids will be shopping for groceries in Englewood.”

Despite the setback, Walker claimed the investment has been a blessing.

“This whole project has been about inspiring hope, and it has done so,” he said. “… We finally come up with the density that an operator needs to succeed in the end. It took too long to get the density, but now this [mayoral] the administration understands that it is urgent and makes the investments so that we can get the stomachs and feet and the people there to help support and make the dealers successful. “

Shoppers lined up outside Whole Foods when it opened in Englewood Square in September 2016.

Shoppers lined up outside Whole Foods when it opened in Englewood Square in September 2016.

Phase 2 is coming

The battle from the Whole Foods end will be softened by another project known as “Englewood Connect”, actually the second phase of Englewood Square. It’s part of Lightfoot’s signature Invest South / West initiative, which Walker also praised.

Urban planning documents describe the $ 10.3 million plan as an “eco-food hub” that will “establish culinary-related uses that empower employees and feed local residents.”

The goal is to utilize an old firehouse at 6204 S. Green St.

The project will adaptively reuse the landmark Green Street fire station as a commercial kitchen, establish a business incubator to train start-up companies, create a community “living room” for local events and reuse vacant land with hoop houses that provide years. The planning and development website.

“A public square will serve as the focal point. Later phases will include a flexible marketplace and an event center.”

City support for the project – in the form of a TIF grant and land – is expected to go to the Social Development Commission as early as 10 May.

The fate of the workers

While Whole Foods did not provide an update on how many employees would be affected in Englewood or Lincoln Park, the company spokeswoman said all “qualified team members will find positions at our other locations.”

Store workers declined to comment, although they were also surprised by the announcement – at least one just started a new job at the Englewood store on Friday.

“Amazon must now take clear steps to protect these workers as they move into new opportunities,” said Lightfoot. “Having been to both of these stores many times over the years, I saw for myself how these workers gave their heart and soul to make the stores a success.”

Promised Coleman: “I guarantee you that the grocery store will not be closed for very long, and we will have even more job opportunities in our local communities in the 16th department. … Englewood is a community that will continue to rise. “

Shoppers head to Whole Foods Market in Englewood on Friday, the same day the company announced the store was closing.

Shoppers head to Whole Foods Market in Englewood on Friday, the same day the company announced the store was closing.

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