Whole Foods executives say they're committed to making a planned 18,000-foot store in an impoverished Chicago neighborhood affordable. But they aren't providing details on how they'll do it.
The upscale grocery store chain announced plans Wednesday to open a store in 2016 in the city's Englewood neighborhood. It's expected to create about 100 jobs.
That new store would be the anchor of a 13 acre complex at the intersection of 63rd and Halsted. The vacant lot is right across from Kennedy King College and has been empty for about 15 years.
The chain is known mostly for healthy, organic fare. Its location in a poor, often crime-plagued neighborhood is aimed at reducing so-called "food deserts," where grocery stores are scarce.
Alderwoman JoAnn Thompson told The Chicago Sun-Times that Whole Foods would be the first new grocery store in her ward in at least three decades.
Whole Foods co-CEO Walter Robb says the chain is making a commitment to the neighborhood on the city's South Side. He says a similar project was launched in Detroit in June where distributors agreed to lower prices.
The chain's co-CEO is Walter Robb said the location is part of the company's belief that "fresh, healthy food choices, along with information and education about food, should be accessible for all communities."
One Englewood resident said the closest grocery store to him is an Aldi. Any other options are 20 blocks away to the north and south. That's a long way just to get food or something that you need a quick gallon of milk. He said opening the market in this location would be very helpful.
"I'm very excited. Usually you will only see a Whole Foods up north," he told FOX 32. "When I heard the news I said, `Whole Foods, okay!` It will definitely be a big boost."
But some Englewood residents are skeptical. They include 57-year-old Patricia Jackson. She said it's too pricey for the area.
Community activist Mark Allen said he welcomes Whole Foods' desire to expand to the Englewood neighborhood, and is happy about the jobs it will bring, when the store finally opens in 2016.
"I was born and raised a few blocks from here," Allen said. "I have seen this community in its heyday, when there were economic engines and tax bases and good jobs. It's good again to see a business like Whole Foods be the economic catalyst for a new tax base for a growing community. That's a good thing."
But he also says that the neighborhood needs jobs now, not only three years from now. With people resorting to selling loose cigarettes on the street and turning to crime to make money at present, Allen said an investment needs to be made in the youth now to see good progress later.
"The mayor has almost a $40 million pot that he announced months ago he raised for local job creation and crime prevention," Allen continued. "The best crime prevention is to give youth that money. Use that $40 million right now to create hundreds of jobs right now, training these same young people how to use these same lots right now to learn how to grow fruits and vegetables so they could be entrepreneurs and do business with Whole Foods when it opens. While 100 jobs are good, in the long run the mayor has the money right now to put hundreds of these community residents to work."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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