ENGLEWOOD —Even though Whole Foods Market plans to build an 18,000-square-foot store on vacant land at 63rd and Halsted streets, hire community residents and donate 5 percent of its profits back to the community, Ald. Toni Foulkes (15th) isn't completely sold on the deal.
"The fact that Whole Foods wants to come to Englewood and address the food desert problem is great," said Foulkes. But "Whole Foods has a select market, and that market is not Englewood."
Foulkes said high prices at Whole Foods are what could stop it from being successful once it opens across the street from Kennedy-King College in three years.
"I mean come on. Who is going to pay $10 for a pound of chicken at Whole Foods when you can go to Save-A-Lot, Aldi or Food 4 Less and get it much cheaper?" added Foulkes, who worked 19 years in the bakery department at Jewel.
But Ald. JoAnn Thompson, whose ward will host the new store, said she was "grateful to Whole Foods Market and the mayor for bringing a wonderful opportunity to Englewood."
The store will give residents much-needed "access to healthier food and healthier lifestyles," and also "stimulate the economy of our neighborhood by providing new jobs," Thompson said.
Foulkes, whose ward covers West Englewood, but not the proposed store site, countered that she makes "a decent salary" — $110,556 annually, according to a city database — but "I can't afford to shop at Whole Foods, so imagine how hard it is for other Englewood consumers."
Melinda Kelly, executive director of the Chatham Business Association, joined Whole Foods Market executives in announcing plans for an Englewood store, but had one reservation.
"I support a Whole Foods store in Englewood, but I think adjustments would have to be made as far as prices so that it aligns with the income of the community," Kelly said.
Walter Robb, co-CEO of Whole Foods Market acknowledged at a Wednesday news conference with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Thompson and other community stakeholders, that price is one barrier when it comes to making fresh vegetables and produce accessible to Englewood residents.
"I'm not sure how we are going to do it, but we will address the price differences between us and other grocery stores," Robb said. "We plan to engage the community in this process and find out from them what products they want sold at the Englewood store."
Less than two blocks away from the proposed Whole Foods site is an Aldi grocery store, at 620 W. 63rd St., which opened in October 1991. This year the store closed May 6 to expand its produce and vegetable selections and reopened June 28.
"The remodeled store now carries an expanded selection of fresh produce items and offers expanded refrigeration capacity for more products, such as fresh meat and dairy," said Lauren Acosta, a spokeswoman for the discount grocery chain. "Aldi currently carries nearly 70 varieties of fresh fruits and vegetables."
Adrian Brown, 54, said he and many other Englewood residents shop at Aldi because of its low prices.
"A loaf of bread at Aldi, wheat or white, costs about 50 cents, but at Whole Foods it's nearly $2. I spend about $500 a month buying groceries at Aldi for my family, and it lasts the entire month," Brown said. "But I'll bet $500 won't go far at Whole Foods."
But Emanuel defended his support of a Whole Foods store "because people living in Englewood should have the same access to fresh vegetables and produce as everyone else in the city."
The mayor added that Whole Foods would benefit from $10 million in city help through Tax Increment Financing assistance. Those funds would be used for site redevelopment and infrastructure work, only, he said.
"Whole Foods did not receive any direct TIF assistance from us," said Emanuel.
The new store will create 100 new jobs, and while the plan is to open the store in the next three years, Robb said he would push to open sooner.
Illinois LINK cards, which are mainly used by low-income and unemployed individuals, are accepted at Whole Foods, according to Robb.
John Paul Jones, president of the Sustainable Englewood Initiatives organization, said he supports the new Whole Foods store.
"Look around you. There are not a lot of choices around here for grocery stores," said Jones. "Yeah, there's an Aldi down the street, but there's a lot of stuff Aldi does not carry, and that's where Whole Foods comes into play, especially if you're talking about organic products."
Additionally, Whole Kids Foundation plans to award up to $20,000 in grants to Englewood schools.
"All schools have to do is go to our website to apply," said Morgan Peretti, a spokeswoman for the foundation. "An individual school could receive up to $2,000."
The Rev. St. John Chisum, pastor of Gifts From God Ministry and executive director of the Pastors of Englewood organization, said he is in wait-and-see mode.
"Lord knows we need quality grocery stores throughout Englewood, but ones that conform to the lifestyles of the residents," said Chisum. "Only time will tell if Whole Foods is one of those quality stores Englewood needs."