Chicago southside residents will have a new opportunity to shop for the finest natural and organic foods available, right within their community. Whole Foods Markets, touted on their website as America's healthiest grocery store, made an announcement to build a 18,000 square foot store in Englewood, one of Chicago's most impoverished neighborhoods. The upscale grocery store chain, based in Austin Texas, announced plans last week to open a store in 2016.
"Let me just say it's a myth that fresh fruits and vegetables have to be expensive," says Whole Foods co-CEO Walter Robb. "It's a myth that you can't eat healthy for less money. You may have to be willing to cook."
Whole Foods will take on the challenge, first presented by Chicago's Mayor Emanual, to help shrink the city's so called "food deserts", a phrase coined by Mari Galagher in her 2006 study that documented health risks to predominantly black communities lacking grocery stores, but instead occupied with fast food outlets.
“It will be an exciting experiment to see how we can help lower-income residents transition to not only healthier foods, but high quality, and sometimes slightly more expensive foods as they become available,” expresses Galagher. “This sends a positive signal to the marketplace, but more importantly, it sends a signal to the rest of Englewood.”
A community that's marred with vacant properties and plagued with gang related crimes, Whole Foods will be built on the corner of 63rd and Halsted, located near the newly designed City Colleges of Chicago Kennedy-King College, a campus that has an enrollment of over 6000 students. Mayor Emanual says that the store will anchor a 13-acre complex for which the city has promised TIF funding, generated through the Chicago Neighborhoods Now initiative.
“The good news is that I had a partner who wanted to be a partner to the whole city, not just parts of the city. These things don’t just happen. You gotta nurture them along,” states Emanuel. “Given that it’s close to Kennedy-King’s campus, there will be ample foot traffic to make this work. And it’s close to the neighborhoods and Interstate 94."
With six stores already in the city and 12 more throughout greater Chicago, Whole Foods markets is widely known to offer a variety of organic and earth friendly products that could be a little pricey. But that may not be a deterrence to inner city shoppers willing to provide healthier food choices for their family.
Most individuals in low income communities like Englewood, qualify for food assistance programs such as SNAP, the government's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. SNAP helps feed over 40 million Americans per month by customers using Link or EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) Cards, and are widely accepted as payment for food purchases at stores like Jewels, Target, Food For Less, WalMart, and KMart.
Though Whole Foods' dedication to Englewood will uplift the area's landscape, it will join neighboring stores Walgreens and Aldi, who are already established and making an impact in the strife community. Robb says plans to build in Englewood will create about 100 jobs and working with residents in the community is crucial. "We recognize this is a community we haven't served," explains Robb. "And we're recognizing it's important to be affordable and accessible. So we'll make that general commitment."