Once-touted Englewood Whole Foods closes on Sunday

The Whole Foods which opened in Englewood six years ago to feature live music, TV-ready politicians and door-to-door lines will close with a bang on Sunday.

The grocery store had once been a point of optimism and pride in the South Side neighborhood, one of Chicago’s most economically depressed neighborhoods. But on Saturday, the hot bar at Whole Foods had gone cold. The freezer aisle was empty except for a few pints of avocado “frozen dessert” and low calorie ice cream.

Items still available in the store have been marked down by 60%. Some shoppers took advantage of deep discounts, pushing carts that looked more like rolling mountains stacked with what was left. Others mourned the store closing.

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

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

Going forward, Harris will have to shop at the store in Hyde Park, which she says is more expensive and farther away. The people who worked at the grocery store she made her own were always kind, she added.

“It seems like every time we get something good in our neighborhood, something comes along 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. site would close 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 options remain in the neighborhood. The handful of remaining grocery stores include a location for budget grocer Aldi nearby 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 known what will replace Whole Foods. The sale agreement with the city requires a full-service grocery store to operate in the Englewood Square development until the end of 2027.

The agreement requires a new store to be operational within 18 months of Whole Foods’ departure. This 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 allowed him to diet. She has a car, so she can get to other places, “but a lot of people don’t,” the 52-year-old said.

“It’s a store that sells healthy food in a poor black neighborhood,” she said. “They should have found a way to make him stay.”

Daniels has moved west to the suburb of Justice, but the former Englewood resident still occasionally shops for elderly family members in the neighborhood and still remembers when the store opened.

“I was happy because I didn’t have to go far,” she said, adding that nearby seniors 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 to pick up two gallons of water, split pea soup, and bread. Inside, the store that once excited her was a little sad, the 29-year-old said.

“If you want to go get healthy food, you might have to travel for it. It was definitely a good thing we had,” Williams said.

Her grandmother lives nearby but doesn’t drive much, so she would get her some stuff. Her grandmother loved the juice, Williams added.

Derek Bassett, 70, remembers former Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel pushing for the store to open in the community. He wasn’t surprised to see it nearby, he said as he walked with his brown paper bags to his car.

“Unless you have the social fabric, certain things in place, it’s not going to work,” the Englewood resident said, adding that he doesn’t think the neighborhood has enough economic stability to sustain the economy. generally expensive grocer.

Theresa Mac didn’t do all her shopping at the store because the prices were high, but she often stopped for details.

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

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The store was close to her home, on the border of Englewood and Auburn Gresham, she said. Now she will have to drive further 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 the Aldi two blocks away, but the cheaper grocer won’t fill the gap left by the higher-quality Whole Foods leaves.

“I understand they were subsidized to come here in the first place, largely. I feel like they were supposed to stay here… They could have 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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