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Neighbors filed into Whole Foods for the store's final hours as security escorted patrons off the premises. "They gave up on this community a long time ago," one neighbor said.
ENGLEWOOD — Linda Johnson was there the first day Whole Foods Market opened its doors in Englewood.
As music played, Johnson and her neighbors waited in line for hours to shop the new store that promised to bring fresh, healthy food to the area. Before Whole Foods arrived in Englewood in 2016, the South Side neighborhood was a food desert that lacked necessities like a grocery store.
That day back in 2016 was a “vibrant” day, Johnson remembered. People were “impressed and hopeful,” she said.
Six years later, Johnson packed bags of deeply discounted vitamins into the trunk of her car as the store prepared to close forever.
“I just wanted to come and support one last time, take advantage of the sale, and say farewell to a great store in a wonderful community,” Johnson said. “I don’t want this space to be vacant. We have enough vacancies in our community. This is a big footprint to fill.”
Whole Foods permanently closed its Englewood store Sunday afternoon.
Officials announced in April the Englewood store at 832 W. 63rd St. was one of six locations closing nationwide. A DePaul University shop in Lincoln Park will also close.
Leaders at the Amazon-owned grocery chain did not announce when or why the store would close at the time, but employees received a 60-day notice in September, alerting them the store would soon close.
After boasting a three-day 60 percent off sale, neighbors shopped the nearly bare shelves Sunday picking up the last of the store’s items.
Whole Foods’ hours were listed as 10 a.m.-6 p.m., but on Sunday, security stood outside the store, turning customers away at 3 p.m.
“We’re closed forever,” they yelled as drivers entered and exited the parking lot.
Aaliyah Bannister-Batie, of Bronzeville, shopped the store’s final hours with her mother, Gloria Bannister, of South Shore.
Bannister-Batie had known the market was set to close for months because she kept up with the news, she said. But as she walked around the store chatting with neighbors, most didn’t know Whole Foods was closing until days before, she said.
“They could have done a countdown with signage,” Bannister-Batie said. “They weren’t trying. They gave up on this community a long time ago, and it’s heartbreaking. They need to be held accountable.”
Barbara Jackson, of Chatham, only found out the store was closing Saturday, she said. The store didn’t have any signs announcing its departure, so she had no idea, she said. A friend told her. She grabbed seltzer water before leaving the lot.
“It’s sad to see a big store like this leaving the community,” Jackson said. “Especially with the senior citizens around here, it’s easy walking distance for them. We have Aldi’s, so it’s not exactly a food desert, but what are people going to do?”
Now that the Englewood Whole Foods has closed, a Hyde Park store will be the only Whole Foods Market on the South Side.
Other nearby grocery stores include a newly remolded ALDI at 63rd and Wallace and the Go Green Community Fresh Market, a community-led store launched by the Go Green on Racine team in March to bring fresh, local food to Englewood.
Inspired by Whole Foods’ closing, Englewood nonprofits have started community gardens to bring healthy options to neighbors’ backyards.
In May, Mayor Lori Lightfoot blasted Whole Foods’ closure in Englewood, calling the market’s closure “a great disappointment” and “gut blow” to the community.
But she also questioned then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s decision to open a store that was too expensive for the neighborhood.
When the store opened in 2016, Emanuel said it would bring more investment to the community. The city devoted $10.7 million in tax-increment financing in 2014 for infrastructure upgrades at Englewood Square to bring the store to fruition. The project also received $13.5 million in federal tax credits, according to Crain’s.
Groceries at the Englewood location were noticeably cheaper when the store opened in 2016. Officials promised the South Side location would be more affordable to fit neighbor’s pockets.
At the time, some neighbors said the prices were steep, but worth it for the “delicious,” healthy food.
Neighbors this year said the market’s prices were still too high to meet the needs of neighbors in Englewood. The store was often empty, even on Saturdays when “grocery stores all over the city are absolutely crowded with people,” Lightfoot said in May.
“To me, what it underscores — and I wasn’t here when this decision was made — you cannot bring investment to the community without talking to the community and making sure the investment makes sense for that community,” Lightfoot said.
The prices were high, Bannister said. But the chain knew that before opening in Englewood and should have found a better way to work with the community, she said.
“There’s no store in the community like this with healthy foods. It’s unfair,” Bannister said. “They just deserted this community.”
The store never figured out how to fit the community’s needs, Bannister-Batie said. The sale was proof, she said.
“The sale was an OK idea, but I think they could have had an opportunity with the holidays around the corner,” Bannister-Batie said. “They could have had food giveaways or given groceries to some of the food pantries in the community and utilized the closure as an opportunity for people to feed their families.”
The future of the Whole Foods location is still in the air.
In October, neighbors and community leaders joined forces to demand the business that replaces Whole Foods be a grocer that provide healthy, affordable options and meet with the community to be accountable for its actions.
Whole Foods is “leading the discussion” with potential grocers, said Ryan Green, chief investment officer at DL3 Realty, in October.
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 in October.
The next grocer will hopefully give Englewood the affordable, healthy options they need, Johnson said.
“Englewood is a growing, thriving community,” Johnson said. “The next grocer needs to educate and put information into the hands of the people so they know how to eat to live and what to eat to be healthy.”
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Atavia Reed is a reporter for Block Club Chicago, covering the Englewood, Auburn Gresham and Chatham neighborhoods.
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