Once-touted Englewood Whole Foods closes Sunday

Once-touted 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, the Whole Foods’ hot bar had gone cold. The freezer aisle was empty, save a few fancy pints of avocado “frozen dessert” and low calorie ice cream.

The items still available in the store were marked down 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 store’s closure.

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

“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 need to shop at the Hyde Park store, which she says is more expensive and farther away. The people who worked at 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 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 shuttering would limit access to fresh and 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 an almost 66,000-square foot location in the Near North neighborhood the same week.

Few grocery options remain in the neighborhood. The handful of grocery stores remaining include a location for low-budget grocer Aldi close by and the smaller “Go Green Community Fresh Market” run by the nonprofit Inner-City Muslim Action Network. Another nearby Aldi in Auburn Gresham abruptly closed in June.

It is not yet clear what will replace the Whole Foods. The sale agreement with the city requires a full-service grocery store to operate in the Englewood Square development until late 2027.

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

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

“This is one store that sells healthy food in a poor Black neighborhood,” she said. “They should’ve found a way to make it stay.”

Daniels moved west to the suburb of Justice, but the former Englewood resident continues to sometimes 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 nearby older people 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 store opening. She was starting 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. Still, she stopped by to pick up two gallons of water, split pea soup and bread. Inside, the store she was once excited about felt kind of sad, the 29-year-old said.

“If you want to go get 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 items for her. Her grandmother liked the juice, Williams added.

Derek Bassett, 70, remembered former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel pushing for the store to open in the community. He wasn’t surprised to see it close, he said as he walked his 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 thinks the neighborhood didn’t have enough economic stability to support the generally expensive grocer.

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

“I got the brownies. Me and the butcher were working to get me enough short ribs to be a dinner I could eat off of for a while,” said Mac, who bought sparking 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’ll have to drive farther to get quality groceries, she said.

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

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

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

Chicago Tribune reporter Talia Soglin contributed.

jsheridan@chicagotribune.com

Twitter: @jakesheridan_

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