Updated 09/04/13 – 12:42 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — As part of the city’s strategy to eliminate so-called “food deserts” in Chicago, City Hall has reached an agreement with Whole Foods to bring an 18,000-square-foot grocery store in the Englewood neighborhood.
WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports the store will be part of a 13-acre development at 63rd and Halsted streets, and will offer fresh fruits, vegetables, and meat in a community that desperately needs it.
“Let’s be honest, a lot of people in parts of the city feel like they never get these top-quality choices,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said. “I want to make sure, if you operate in the city of Chicago, you operate in all our neighborhoods, in all parts of our city, and you give everybody a shot at great quality.”
Whole Foods Co-CEO Walter Robb said it’s a myth that fresh healthy foods have to be expensive, but he admitted typical Whole Foods prices might be more than low-income residents of Englewood could afford.
“The commitment we’re making, and our team is making is we recognize we’re coming to Englewood, recognize this is a community we haven’t served, and we’re recognizing that it’s important to be affordable and accessible,” Robb said. “So we’ll make that general commitment; exactly how that will show up, we’ll sort that through.”
Englewood residents were all for the new grocery store, as the neighborhood has only a handful of stores that sell fresh produce. There is an Aldi in Englewood, but no other full-sized grocery stores, only fast food joints and convenience stores with very limited selections of fruit and vegetables, if any.
“It’s like a lifesaver in the neighborhood now, because it’s like the only place you can get fresh meat, fresh produce,” Englewood resident Johnny Daily said of the Aldi at 63rd and Lowe Avenue.
He said the closest alternative is a Fairplay Foods grocery 2 ½ miles away at 4640 S. Halsted St.
“I can come out my back door and come through the lot, and I’m here; as opposed to having to get on the bus, go to Halsted, go all the way to 47th Street,” he said.
Some Englewood residents, however, were wary that the new store might push some poor residents out of the neighborhood.
Emanuel said the Whole Foods will provide much healthier food options than the fast food chains and convenience stores that fill the neighborhood’s commercial spaces.
“Most importantly, if you do that, families will be making the right choice for their children, and their health, because eating – as you well know … we all know now – is very much about health care,” he said.
Englewood resident Rozanne Valentine said she already shops at the Whole Foods in the South Loop, about 7 ½ miles away.
“I take two buses, but it’s worth it,” she said.
Valentine said there are no stores in in Englewood that compare to the quality and selection she finds at Whole Foods.
Just across the street from the spot where Whole Foods plans to build its new store, a small convenience store sells a very limited selection of fresh produce.
“They sell very little. If you want fresh greens – like kale, broccoli, organic foods – they dont have it,” Valentine said.
Daily said what excites him most is the infusion of the jobs the project will provide for his home of nearly 40 years.
“This community needs a store, and they need to hire people out of the community to work in it,” he said.
The project, slated to be completed in 2016, would create 100 jobs, according to the mayor’s office. In addition to the Whole Foods Market, the development at 63rd and Halsted would include retail space, other shops, and a park. Emanuel said the store also would be part of the Washburne Culinary Institute at Kennedy-King College.
“So the kids there are going to get a direct experience doing the meal preparation, and working together,” he said.
The city has pledged an unspecified amount of TIF money to help fund the entire project under the city’s Chicago Neighborhoods Now program.
Whole Foods opened a similar inner-city store in Detroit earlier this year.
Spokeswoman Robin Rehfield Kelly said the 21,000-square-foot store in Detroit has been profitable, and has exceeded the company’s expectations on sales.
“We were on the ground in the community for 15 months prior to the opening building relationships with the local community. Together, we were able to create a store that truly meets the need of the community — including product mix,” she said.
The store in Detroit sells Whole Foods’ “364 Everyday Value Line” products; bulk varieties of grains, beans, flours, and other staples; and offers free cooking classes, advice on shopping on a budget, and healthy eating tips.