ENGLEWOOD — Local business owners said a new Whole Foods store represents more than a new grocery store for Englewood.
Some see it as a potential way to help grow their own businesses.
At a Tuesday groundbreaking for Englewood Square, a 5-acre retail development at 63rd and Halsted streets that will be anchored by an 18,000 square-foot Whole Foods store, many in the community said the store could help revive the struggling community.
This will get "the ball rolling for us to possibly expand our hours of operation," said Kristopher Murray, executive director of the Washburne Culinary Institute at Kennedy-King College, which operates Sikia restaurant.
The student-run restaurant at 740 W. 63rd St. is open for lunch only, but Murray said the amount of foot traffic Whole Foods could create could open the doors for Sikia to begin offering a dinner menu.
"We don't offer night [culinary] classes at this time, but by having a Whole Foods across the street that could all change," Murray said. "Having an opportunity to provide evening service at Sikia is something I am looking forward to for our students and the community."
Howard Bailey is part owner of Dream Cafe & Grille, a new restaurant under construction in the 6100 block of South Halsted Street, which is set to open by September. Bailey said he is hoping Whole Foods brings more customers to his restaurant.
"Whole Foods will bring more people to the neighborhood as well as healthy options. The more people that come to Englewood the better," said Bailey, 40, who lives in the neighborhood.
Leon Walker, whose firm DL3 Realty L.P. is the developer for the project, said once Whole Foods is up and running it could attract a sit-down restaurant to the site.
"That is one thing sorely needed for this development and the community," Walker said.
"As a child growing up in West Englewood I never questioned the fact that my family had to go outside the community to find quality food, selection and prices," said Harper, 32. "I can remember my grandmother saying, 'We have to go shopping in the white folks' neighborhood because the food is better there.' We just did what we had to do to eat, and we still do today. Food is medicine. It is the basic necessity of life."
Harper added that she was pleased that the mayor kept his promise to help improve food access and economic development for Englewood residents. It was a promise Emanuel said he was happy to have fulfilled.
"This groundbreaking today is a testament to the resurgence of Englewood," Emanuel said.
Thompson said the groundbreaking represents a sea change compared to the reception she got in 2008, when she attended a Las Vegas convention for the National Retail Association with a goal of persuading merchants to open stores in Englewood.
"But once I told them I was from Englewood, no one wanted to be bothered, and that really made me sad," Thompson said. "I cried out to God for help, and he sent someone. He sent the mayor. After he was elected, I asked him to help me bring a grocery store to my ward, and true to his word, he did."
Some residents have expressed concerns about the food selection and the generally higher prices at many Whole Foods. Robb said his company is addressing those concerns at this store.
"It is going to be affordable and accessible. We have done research on what products are available to the community and what is needed," Robb said. "We have started a conversation with the community to gather their point of view. So we have to just do it, because talk is cheap."
And even though Whole Foods prices are traditionally higher, Harper said, "We [Englewood residents] cannot afford not to have this Whole Foods store."
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