ENGLEWOOD — A line of shoppers stretched around the new Whole Foods in Englewood before it opened Wednesday morning, then customers were greeted with cheers of "Englewoooood!" as they entered the store that marks the high-end grocery store chain's long-anticipated foray into the South Side neighborhood.
Some customers waited for as long as four hours for the store's 9 a.m. opening, and store officials said more than 3,000 people had shopped at the store as of Wednesday evening.
"It feels like a brand new day in Englewood," said shopper George Lyke. "I'm excited."
Store officials, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the community celebrated the grand opening Wednesday with a "bread breaking ceremony" in the parking lot of the store at 832 W. 63rd St.
The "Bread Breaking Ceremony" took place right before the Whole Foods opened Wednesday morning. [DNAinfo/Andrea V. Watson]
Emanuel was joined at the opening with Whole Foods co-CEO Walter Robb, U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Chicago), and Aldermen Toni Foulkes (16th), Raymond Lopez (15th), David Moore (17th) and Michelle Harris (8th).
He said if the national chain calls itself a “Chicago store,” then it needs to operate in all parts of the city. He commended Whole Foods for opening there.
The 35 local suppliers whose products are on the shelves "now have products not just on the Internet but on a Whole Foods shelf," Emanuel said.
Robb said Emanuel pushed the company to open the store in his first term, saying the community needed it as much as any in the city.
“I realized this guy is as passionate about healthy food for people as we are," Robb said of his first conversation with the mayor about opening in Englewood.
He praised residents who came to community meetings to discuss everything from the design of the store to the local products it would carry.
"You have helped to make us a much better company," Robb said to applause.
Emanuel and Robb praised the late Ald. JoAnn Thompson (16th), whose ward included the site, for all of her efforts to bring the store to Englewood.
"She was a sincere and consistent voice in my ear of how this should work," Robb said.
Emanuel said the store is an anchor to attract more retailers to the area. DL3 Realty managing partner Leon Walker said that seven of the 10 storefronts in Englewood Square have been leased. The other three are still in negotiations.
Rush (D-Chicago), whose first job was washing dishes in the community, said he's been waiting a long time to see Englewood come back."This is an amazing day," he said. "I remember when this was the busiest commercial district outside of the Loop. I'm so excited because this shopping center represents a return to the days when Englewood was the leading community and most vibrant in the city."
Walker said that he's excited to see the store finally here, along with the other retailers in Englewood Square.
"We have faith that this will be a great development that will have a ripple effect," he said. "This is more than brick and mortar. This is about restoring hope back into Englewood. We're breaking a more than 50-year disinvestment cycle in the area."
Foulkes, who is 52, said the new development was a flashback for her.
"For a split second I saw this corner the way it used to be when I was 7 years old," she said, adding that after Thompson died, it was her responsibility as the 16th Ward alderman to help grow the seed that Thompson had planted.
Jay McKinney [from left], Alex Tellado-Santiago and Antonio Henry [DNAinfo/Andrea V. Watson]
Alex Tellado-Santiago, an assistant team manager in the store's produce department, said a store like Whole Foods being in Englewood is long overdue and he's happy to work in the community where he lives.
"I try to get my team members excited about what we're doing for the community and the fact that I'm from here is a big deal which is why I chose to come to this store," he said. "I wanted to be a part of the change."
Englewood's Whole Foods has opened. pic.twitter.com/3nE07UlNKk— Kelly Bauer (@BauerJournalism) September 28, 2016
Emanuel walked around the store saying hello to customers and posing for photos. He was the first in the smoothie line. What was he drinking?
"The Mayor's Special," he replied. "There's some ginger and honey in this."
Mayor Rahm Emanuel is tastes a smoothie at the Englewood Whole Foods. [DNAinfo/Andrea V. Watson]
Lyke said he's pleased that Whole Foods committed to opening a store in his community.
A vegetarian, he said he has struggled to find food options near his home and leaves the neighborhood to shop, but Englewood's Whole Foods has healthy, more affordable items he can eat.
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