Once-touted Englewood Whole Foods closes Sunday

Once-touted Englewood Whole Foods closes Sunday
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Whole Foods, which opened in Englewood six years ago with live music, TV-ready politicians and outdoor 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 the most economically depressed areas of Chicago. But by Saturday, the Whole Foods hot bar had gone cold. The freezer aisle was empty except for a few fancy pints of avocado “frozen” and low-fat ice cream.

Items that were still available in the store were marked down by 60 percent. Some shoppers took advantage of deep discounts, pushing carts that looked like more rolling coasters filled with what was left. Others lamented the closing of the store.

Barbara Harris, who follows a vegan diet, goes to Whole Foods almost every day for nuts and fresh fruit, she said. However, most of her usual items were out of stock when she arrived on Saturday. She wished she had gone earlier.

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

In future, Harris will have to shop at the Hyde Park store, which she says is more expensive and further away. The people who worked at the grocery store she had made for him were always nice, 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 mall in which the store is located. When Whole Foods announced the 832 W. 63rd St. location’s closure in April, local activists said they felt betrayed, adding that the closure would limit access to fresh, healthy food in the neighborhood.

The company closed five other stores across the country “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 neighborhood the same week.

Few grocery store options remain in the neighborhood. The handful of grocery stores that remain include a location for the budget Aldi supermarket nearby and the smaller “Go Green Community Fresh Market” run by the non-profit organization Inner-City Muslim Action Network. Another nearby Aldi in Auburn Gresham abruptly closed in June.

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

The deal requires a new store to be up and running within 18 months of Whole Foods exiting. That would put the deadline for a new grocery store in May 2024.

Chanda Daniels, who shopped at the store on Saturday night, is a 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 health food in a poor black neighborhood,” he said. “They should have found a way to make him stay.”

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

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

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

He was born and raised in the neighborhood, but has since moved to Oak Lawn. Still, she stopped to pick up two gallons 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 find healthy food, you may have to travel to get it. This was definitely a great thing that we had,” Williams said.

His grandmother lives nearby but doesn’t drive much so he would get items for her. 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 her close to him, he said as she walked with her brown paper bags to his car.

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

Shoppers and workers are seen inside a Whole Foods in Chicago's Englewood neighborhood on November 20, 2019. November 12, 2022. The store will close permanently on November 1.  13

Theresa Mac didn’t do all of her shopping at the store because the prices were high, but she stopped by often to get specific information.

“I have the brownies. The butcher and I were working on getting enough short ribs for a dinner that I could eat for a while,” said Mac, who bought sparkling water and juice at the store on Saturday night.

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The store was close to home on the border of Englewood and Auburn Gresham, he said. Now, she will have to drive farther to get quality groceries, she said.

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

She buys a few small items, like bananas, at Aldi two blocks down, but the lower-cost grocery store won’t fill the void left when higher-quality Whole Foods leaves.

“I understand they were subsidized to come here in the first place, big time. I feel like they were supposed to stay here… They could have left it open,” Mac said. “It’s a choice they made.”

Chicago Tribune reporter Talia Soglin contributed.

Twitter: @jakesheridan_

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