Englewood’s Whole Foods is needed solution to food desert

It was years in the making: the only grocery store in Far South Englewood, an area stricken with poverty and gang violence and placing high on “Most Dangerous Neighborhoods in Chicago” lists, like one published Feb. 10 by RoadSnacks that puts it as number two, behind West Englewood. 

Members of the community and Chicago expressed doubts that this new Whole Foods location could work, but now that it’s open, it looks as if operations are running smoothly and local residents are satisfied.

Whole Foods is known for high-end selections and high prices to match but is rolling out “365,” a value-conscious prototype, on the West Coast to compete with Trader Joe’s.  It adopted what seems to be a similar strategy for the new store, located at 832 W. 63rd St., by adjusting its prices to what a typical grocery store might charge for staples like bread, milk and eggs. Even though it still sells some pricier items, these are not the store’s focus. It will not even sell meat or fish that costs more than $20 a pound.

The Englewood store was built with a $15 million tax subsidy from the city, which helped bring both food and jobs to a neighborhood that was lacking in both. Whole Foods has held job fairs and provided local residents with employment and professional training opportunities. It also made a point of selling products from South Side vendors to support local businesses.

Starbucks followed Whole Foods’ lead and soon so will Chipotle, creating an area called Englewood Square that aims to be a hub for stores and restaurants, according to a June 30 article by the Chicago Sun-Times. Residents have expressed hope that the area will continue to attract businesses to Englewood. Before the Whole Foods even officially moved in, a clothing and shoe store called Villa opened in the Square,  banking that the grocery store would attract people to the store and the area.

However, with all of these new, mainstream businesses coming into the area, gentrification remains a concern for many. It is unlikely, though, that this will happen soon—the area remains one of the most dangerous in Chicago and will likely hold that title for a while, even with the new additions. While these new businesses make the neighborhood more livable for those already living there, high-end developers are not likely to flock to the area, nor are North Side residents likely to take the time to travel south to Englewood for the lower prices available.

Whole Foods should continue to provide the area with jobs and reasonably priced food, instead of turning its back on the community once the novelty and publicity wears off. It will also benefit the neighborhood as a center for community outreach and events, which it promises to do.

The businesses that follow Whole Foods to Englewood Square should make sure to continue the legacy of promoting a more sustainable community, and not turn the venture into something less respectable. 

As long as businesses in the area and the city of Chicago keep their eyes on the future and continue the good work already begun, Englewood’s Whole Foods will continue to be exactly what the community needs, and the beginning of a resurgence for this troubled neighborhood with so much promise.