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Once designated Englewood Whole Foods closes Sunday

The Whole Foods that opened in Englewood six years ago to live music, TV-ready politicians and out-the-door lines will close Sunday with little fanfare.

The grocery store had once been a point of optimism and pride in the South Side neighborhood, one of Chicago’s most economically depressed areas. But by Saturday, Whole Foods’ hot bar had gone cold. The freezer aisle was empty, save for a few fancy pints of avocado “frozen dessert” and low-calorie ice cream.

The items that are still available in the store were marked down by 60 percent. Some shoppers took advantage of deep discounts, pushing carts that looked more like rolling mountains piled high with what was left. Others mourned the closure of the store.

Barbara Harris, who eats a vegan diet, goes to Whole Foods almost every day for nuts and fresh fruit, she said. However, most of her usual items were sold out when she arrived on Saturday. She wished she would have left sooner.

“This is a nice place for us. And now that it’s leaving, I’m just disappointed,” the 61-year-old Englewood resident said.

Going forward, Harris will have to shop at the Hyde Park store, which she says is more expensive and further away. The people who worked in the grocery store she had made hers were always kind, she added.

“It seems like every time we get something good in our neighborhood, something happens to take it away,” Harris said.

The city spent $10.7 million to subsidize the construction of the shopping center where the store is located. When Whole Foods announced the closing of the 832 W. 63rd St. location in April, local activists said they felt betrayed, adding that the closing would limit access to fresh and healthy food in the neighborhood.

The company closed five other stores nationwide “to position Whole Foods Market for long-term success” at the time, including a location near DePaul. It also opened a nearly 66,000-square-foot location in the Near North area that same week.

There are few grocery options left in the neighborhood. The handful of grocery stores that remain include a location for budget grocer Aldi next door and the smaller “Go Green Community Fresh Market” run by the nonprofit Inner-City Muslim Action Network. Another nearby Aldi in Auburn Gresham closed abruptly in June.

It is not yet clear what will replace Whole Foods. The sales agreement with the city calls for a full-service grocery store to operate in the Englewood Square development until the end of 2027.

The agreement requires a new store to be in operation within 18 months of Whole Foods’ departure. That would set the deadline for a new grocery store in May 2024.

Chanda Daniels, who shopped at the store Saturday night, is vegan like Harris. Whole Foods sold items that enabled her diet. She has a car, so she can get to other places, “but a lot of people don’t,” the 52-year-old said.

“This is a store that sells healthy food in a poor black neighborhood,” she said. “They should have found a way to make it happen.”

Daniels moved west to suburban Justice, but the former Englewood resident sometimes continues to shop for elderly family members in the neighborhood and still remembers when the store first opened.

“I was happy, because I didn’t have to go far,” she said, adding that older people nearby are now likely to have a harder time getting quality goods. “We really need places like this in neighborhoods like this.”

Sekhema Williams also remembered the store opening. She started an organic juice business, so it was convenient to have fresh produce nearby.

She was born and raised in the neighborhood, but has since moved to Oak Lawn. Nevertheless, she stopped by to get two liters of water, split pea soup and bread. Inside, the store she was once excited about felt a little sad, the 29-year-old said.

“If you want to go and buy healthy food, you might just have to travel for it. This was definitely a great thing that we had,” Williams said.

Her grandmother lives nearby but doesn’t drive much, so she would get her supplies. Her grandmother liked the juice, Williams added.

Derek Bassett, 70, recalled former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel pushing for the store to open in the community. He wasn’t surprised to see it nearby, he said as he walked his brown paper bags to his car.

“Unless you have the structure of the community, certain things in place, it’s not going to work,” the Englewood resident said, adding that he believes the neighborhood didn’t have enough financial stability to support the generally expensive grocer.

Once designated Englewood Whole Foods closes Sunday

Theresa Mac couldn’t get all her groceries at the store because the prices were high, but she stopped by often for details.

“I got brownies. Me and the butcher worked to get enough short ribs to last me a dinner for a while,” said Mac, who bought sparkling water and juice at the store Saturday night.

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The store was close to home on the border of Englewood and Auburn Gresham, she said. Now she has to drive further to get quality goods, she said.

“I can’t get in the car and run down here,” Mac said.

She buys some small items, like bananas, from Aldi two blocks down the street, but the lower-priced grocer won’t fill the gap as higher-quality Whole Foods leaves behind.

“It’s my understanding that they were subsidized to come here in the first place, big time. I feel like they should have stayed here… They could have kept it open,” Mac said. “That’s a choice they’ve made.”

Chicago Tribune reporter Talia Soglin contributed.

Twitter: @jakesheridan_

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