ENGLEWOOD — Michelle Rashad used to drive from her home in Englewood to the South Loop to do her shopping and socializing.
But for the past eight months, the 25 year old has been a near-daily visitor to the new Whole Foods in Englewood. Not only does she live in the community, but she works as a program manager for the Resident Association of Greater Englewood too.
“If they had a spokeswoman, it would be me,” she said. “I love the fact that it’s there.”
Rashad’s experience is shared with other shoppers and community leaders who say the new store has changed their shopping and daily way of life, in some cases.
When the store opened last September, Mayor Rahm 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). Some customers waited for four hours in line on its opening day, and literally rushed into the store when the doors opened. There was music and free food.
While the fanfare surrounding the opening of the store at 63rd and Halsted streets has died down, residents say the store — and strip mall around it — have become a hub for the community.
Rashad not only shops there, but meets family like her sister-in-law and niece at wine tastings on Friday evenings.
“It’s really great because it gives us the opportunity to catch up since I rarely see them,” she said.
Michelle Rashad (center) shops and socializes at Whole Foods regularly. [Provided/Michelle Rashad]
Not only are residents shopping there, but the store has been attracting customers from outside of the neighborhood. Reasonable prices and healthy foods keep many of them coming, shoppers said.
Isabelle Conda stays in West Pullman, yet makes the drive to Englewood for all of her grocery items.
“I love Whole Foods, I really do,” she said. “Prices, generally are little higher, but this one is comparative to the other stores. This one is a little lower.”
Tony Fouch, of West Pullman, said as an advocate for healthy foods like organic fruit and fresh Rainbow Trout, Whole Foods is the right store for him.
It’s pricier than other stores he shops at, but “you can’t put a price on your health.”
He said it doesn't appear that the store has increased its prices much since it opened, which he’s pleased with.
In a recent visit, some prices included a dozen eggs for $1.99, a gallon of milk for $1.99 and a loaf of bread for $1.50.
While Whole Foods wouldn't give sales figures, officials said they were committed to keeping the store affordable.
“In terms of retail, it’s still kind of early to provide a huge update on how things are going,” said spokeswoman Allison Phelps. “We have been keeping prices in mind. That was the commitment from the beginning and we’re going to continue to honor it.”
Phelps also said that Whole Foods is engaging with the community, including store events like the weekly “5 After 5 Wine Tasting” Rashad attends.
The new store attracts customers within the community and out. [DNAinfo/Andrea V. Watson]
Hyde Park resident LaForce Baker’s company, Moon Meals Inc., sells a Fiesta Wrap, similar to a vegan burrito, at the store. He is one of 35 local suppliers whose products are on the shelves.
He said that so far the Englewood location has been a little "tougher" than other stores he's in because it doesn't get as much foot traffic as the store in Lakeview, for example.
But after some adjustments, he said his product is selling well."The store sells through pretty much 80 percent of inventory, that’s above industry average which is 60 percent," he said.
Dave Barlow, who lived in the neighborhood for a few years when he was growing up, now works at nearby Nicholson Academy, 6006 S. Peoria St.
He eats and shops at Whole Foods daily, he said.
“I think it’s very reasonable,” he said. “I don’t think it’s something that’s going to break the bank.”
He said the area has changed a lot and that Whole Foods has played a big role in that transformation. Other stores in the Englewood Square strip mall include Starbucks and Chipotle.
“Some of the people here in this community don’t know what they got over here,” Barlow said. “It’s attracting more people into the community. Hopefully that brings more business and just more activity.”