ENGLEWOOD — Neighbors and community leaders joined forces to demand the business replacing a soon-to-close Whole Foods in Englewood provides healthy, affordable options and meets with the community to be accountable for their actions.
A few dozen neighbors gathered Wednesday at Kennedy King College to discuss the fate of Englewood’s Whole Food Market days before the grocer permanently closes its store at 832 W. 63rd St. on Nov. 13.
Joined by the “Englewood 5” — a nickname coined to name all of Englewood’s alderpeople — Ald. Stephanie Coleman (16th) demanded the tenant that replaces Whole Foods respect the community and is affordable with high-quality, fresh food.
Other tenants at Englewood Square, such as Chipotle and Starbucks, have committed to remaining in the $20 million development as the “anchor” tenant leaves, Coleman said.
But when a grocer leaves a vacant 18,000-square-foot building behind “in the heart of the South Side,” it reverberates across neighborhoods, Coleman said.
The next operator shouldn’t have the same opportunity to leave, Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) said.
“We are a city of folks who keep coming,” Taylor said. “Every time they knock us down, we keep coming. But now it’s time for us to come up with our own.”
Representatives from Whole Foods were invited to the panel discussion but did not show, Coleman said.
Whole Foods’ departure comes amid a trend of grocers “moving like a thief in the middle of the night” and leaving communities, Coleman said.
An Aldi in Auburn Gresham abruptly closed in June without notifying neighbors or local officials. In Back of the Yards, representatives at Food 4 Less announced the store would close in October, Coleman said.
In June, Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) announced a City Council resolution for a hearing to “examine the failure of the city of Chicago food access policies to meet the needs of underserved residents.” Forty alderpeople have signed the resolution, Lopez said Wednesday.
“We need to come up with a more comprehensive solution because we can’t keep operating like this,” Lopez said. “We can’t keep coming back to you every three or four years and say we tried this one and they left. We need something concrete, something stable.”
Whole Foods is “leading the discussion” with potential grocers, said Ryan Green, chief investment officer at DL3 Realty.
DL3 Realty is the landlord of the building, but Whole Foods Market is a tenant with the state for the next seven years. Whole Foods has the “right to fill the space with a subtenant” of its choice, Green said.
In September, Leon Walker, managing partner at DL3 Realty, said developers would “have something to report in the next 30 days or so.” That announcement will now come in the “next couple of weeks,” Green said Wednesday.
In weekly calls with leaders at Whole Foods, DL3 Realty has “pressed” the company to find an operator with affordable price that’s “committed to the community as Whole Foods was in the beginning,” Green said.
The “net has been cast very wide” for what will replace Whole Foods, Green said.
Aldi, Cermak Fresh Market, Pete’s Fresh Market and “all the grocery names you’re aware of in this market in the city” have been in communication with Whole Foods, Green said.
The “only brand” that the community can count on is a local brand, planning Commissioner Maurice Cox said.
Yellow Banana, a Black-owned company, received $13.5 million as part of the city’s Community Development Grant program to buy and revitalize six grocery stores on the South and West sides, including Auburn Gresham. The store is an example of a local model that leaders and neighbors have called for, Cox said.
“I am not surprised with a national corporation up and leaves a community because they’re looking at their bottom line,” Cox said. “We know that they have no real allegiance to the community. … I’m not looking for another Whole Foods to replace that grocer. We’re looking for something that has the capacity to build a local brand and stay in the community,”
But Yellow Banana isn’t a local business and is another example of how the city continues to fund nationally rather than locally, Taylor said.
Instead, the community needs a locally owned option that prioritizes entrepreneurs in the community and keeps the neighborhood’s best interests in mind, Taylor said.
Stores such as the Go Green Community Fresh Market, a nearly $5 million grocery store created for and by the community, are the blueprint for what the community needs, Taylor said.
“We have to start thinking about growing our own,” Taylor said.
In a survey with close to 200 residents of diverse ages, residents were “loud and clear” about what they wanted, said Cecile DeMello, executive director at Teamwork Englewood.
Whether it be a Mariano’s, Aldi or Walmart, neighbors said the community needs an affordable store with variety, great customer service and local engagement, DeMello said.
A top priority should also be finding the best grocer, and one that respects the community, Coleman said.
“We’re feeling the seven-year end of a contract when things go left, and we want to make sure that we’re not victims of disinvestment for decades and that we’re not back here in seven years,” Coleman said. “It’s going to be the best operator that’s going to respect our community and will appreciate us and include us.”
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