ENGLEWOOD — The success of a Whole Foods Market proposed for Englewood hinges on whether people will be willing to pay a little more and travel a little farther for healthier food, experts and area convenience store owners say.
Walter Robb, co-CEO of Whole Foods, recently announced that the company would open an 18,000-square-foot store in 2016 near Kennedy-King College, and would reduce prices if necessary in the low-income community.
"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."
A DNAinfo Chicago comparison of prices at an Englewood Aldi and a Near North Whole Foods found the high-end grocer charged more — sometimes significantly more — for everyday items.
But paying more for food is nothing new for those living in a food desert, residents said.
Convenience stories, which compete with grocers for business, often charge more because they do not buy in bulk.
"Distributors deal with large orders only. So I would need to order 100 pounds of chicken opposed to five or 10 pounds," said Jacob Hatter, manager of Rainbow Finer Food & Liquors, 6316 S. Ashland Ave. "Most convenience stores do not have the space to store a lot of food. Our food orders are based on our store space."
Still, Hatter said he doesn't overcharge, adding that he only makes a 40-cent profit on chicken and less than 20 cents on cigarettes. He said he was not worried about losing business to Whole Foods.
"My prices are less than Whole Foods, so I am not worried about competing with Whole Foods. And unlike Whole Foods, I carry products Englewood shoppers prefer," Hatter said. "Englewood shoppers cannot afford to shop at Whole Foods."
Lauren Yucan, a Chicago health consultant, was more optimistic about Whole Foods' future in Englewood.
"Education to healthy eating is the best part of shopping at Whole Foods. Englewood residents will have the opportunity to learn how to eat healthy. Up to this point, that opportunity has not been available to them," Yucan said.
The grocer's presence could also improve the local economy by bringing people from outside of Englewood into the community, Yucan added.
Kiki Williams, 22, said she was already paying too much for food. However, the regular convenience store shopper said her lack of a car left her with few options.
"You need to realize that when you do not have a car you are not going to travel far to find a better deal," Williams said. "You are going to go to the nearest store to buy your food even if it cost more. No one wants to carry bags and bags of groceries on the bus."
Location is likely to play the biggest role in where people decide to shop, according to Mari Gallagher, a researcher and consultant who authored The Chicago Food Desert Progress Report in 2011. Gallagher added that people were willing to spend more money to stay close to home.
"That is how some people think even if it means spending more money," said Gallagher. "But you won't find skinless chicken and fresh fruits at most convenience stores."
Gallagher said while many Englewood residents may not eat organic and gluten-free foods now, that could change when Whole Foods opens up.
"If they had access to healthy food, they may choose to shop at Whole Foods," Gallagher said.
The proposed Whole Foods site is located across the street from a Green Line train station and along the 63rd Street bus route, but Williams said that may not matter.
"Without a car, who in the hell is going to get on the bus to go shop at Whole Foods? The prices at these [convenience] stores are expensive, but it's in walking distance and that makes all the difference when you're talking about someone buying groceries for the whole month," Williams said.
Adel Munasser, owner of Extra Value Food & Liquor, 6267 S. Ashland, said his customers kept coming back because of his selection.
"Our food selection is probably one of the largest sold in this immediate area. People do their grocery shopping here every week," he said.
Neighborhood resident Jacqueline Harris, 50, said she can find almost anything at local shops.
"Almost everything you want is sold at these stores. Loose cigarettes, beer, wine, some snacks, and little knickknacks for the house," said Harris.
"They're called convenience stores for a reason," she said.