Upscale grocer Whole Foods — derisively known as "Whole Paycheck" for its high prices — got the OK Thursday to set up shop in Chicago's impoverished Englewood community, the Sun-Times is reporting.
The Chicago Plan Commission approved the retail portion of a project anchored by Whole Foods on the northwest corner of 63rd and Halsted streets across from Kennedy-King College.
Englewood community leaders said the store will provide a "great sense of hope" for a neighborhood besieged by violence that has precious few healthy food choices.
The project depends on an $11 million city subsidy for site preparation that will require an expiring tax-increment financing district to be extended while money is "ported over" from a neighboring TIF.
The larger question is how Whole Foods plans to go about convincing Englewood residents that an upscale grocer can serve their needs at affordable prices. That will be the measure of success.
Bridget Jones, vice-president for strategic operations for Whole Foods' midwest region, said the selling job has already begun, using the "same model" the retailer used successfully at its store in Detroit.
"We've been listening in the community about what their needs are for fresh and healthy foods. We also teach classes on how to shop on a budget and healthy eating basics. We're going to partner with Kennedy-King College to use their facility before the store is built to host those classes. . . .That will be the way that we'll build the clientele," Jones said.
As for affordability, Jones said Whole Foods has a "value line," known as 365, that is "very competitively-priced with conventional supermarkets." And instead of pricing fruit and vegetables by the pound, customers are charged for "each" apple, for example.
"We think it's going to work based on the success we've had in Detroit and based on what we've heard from the community about how they are looking for healthy and fresh food options," she said.
Local Ald. Joann Thompson (16th) said she has no doubt that her constituents will flock to Whole Foods when it finally opens at the end of 2015.
"I visited the Detroit store. I went there to see for myself. The store is priced very well. People will be able to afford it," she said.
"I buy stuff at one store. Then, I go to another store and buy things. It'll work out. People from my community are traveling down to Roosevelt to go the store, Now, they won't have to go that far."
The redevelopment site is located within the soon-to-expire Englewood Mall TIF, which had a balance of just $4.8 million and was generating roughly $350,000 in property tax revenue, according to a city audit published June 30.
Site developer David Doig — a former city planning commissioner and Park District superintendent — said the Englewood Mall TIF will be extended. The rest of the money will come from the adjacent Englewood Neighborhood TIF.
"The combination of what's left in the Englewood Mall TIF plus the available increment in the Englewood Neighborhood TIF should make up that $10 million-to-$11 million that's needed. The combination of the two should suffice," Doig said.