Wednesday, November 13, 2013

WBEZ: Whole Foods plans to replicate Detroit success in Englewood

Midtown Detroit Whole Foods on June 5, 2013 via Huffington Post
This story shouldn't be much of a surprise. It's been two months since the news broke that Whole Foods Market is coming to Englewood. There was already talk that this store could resemble one that's open in the city of Detroit:
As the chain prepares to open a store at 63rd and Halsted, Englewood residents, movers and shakers can look to the Detroit store as an exmple of what to expect.

For example, before ground even broke on the Detroit location, residents expressed concern about jobs and transparency. In response, Whole Foods partnered with local nonprofits to hold information sessions on the hiring procecss. Today, 65 percent of the employees are native Detroiters.

Jobs weren’t the only concern. Pricing was, too. Austin says the company listened.

“If you come to Whole Foods Market and you buy artisan cheeses and artisan olive oil, then yeah, your grocery bill is going go climb," Austin said. "But if you come and shop staples, you shop our groceries, you shop produce [...] you’ll see we got bagged apples right now for $2.99 a bag.”

Bus driver Eva Turner lives in Detroit and didn’t frequent Whole Foods until this store opened. She loads her cart with pita bread, snap peas, apples, chicken gizzards and hummus.

“You can find some good bargains," she said. "For instance, they had the chicken thighs for $1.29 a pound, which is a good deal 'cause if you go to a regular store, that’s what you’re going to pay but it’s kind of fresher here.”
One of the players instrumental in gaining community credibility is holistic expert and Detroit native Versandra Kennebrew. Whole Foods offered free space to holistic providers, Kennebrew was one of them, and they hired her to conduct community outreach.

“The grand opening day of Whole Foods Market was a day in history for the company, said Kennebrew. "They sold more produce in one day on the grand opening day than than any store that opened in the history of Whole Foods Market."

Whole Foods officials won’t release store sales but they say the Detroit location has exceeded expectations.

Like Englewood, the city’s reputation elicited sourness when Whole Foods announced its plans.

“People outside view our community [...] think oh you come here I’m going to get mugged," said Carolyn Miller of Ser Metro Detroit, one of the agencies that helped Whole Foods recruit local employees. "[They say] we’re just despair. We’re not. We have people who want to eat organic food."

Khalilah Gaston runs a community development corporation in a neighborhood just north of the Detroit Whole Foods that aims to fight a history of disinvestment. She says Whole Foods has become a model for other projects coming to the neighborhood. The expectation of giving back is higher.
As always there is criticism:
Urban farmer Greg Willerer is one of them. He owns a city farm dubbed Brother Nature several miles away from the new Whole Foods, one of many new urban farms in the area that provide fresh food to residents.

He gives Whole Foods props for its strategic campaign, but he questions the $4.2 million in tax incentives the company received from the city.

“There’s this climate that Whole Foods is coming into where a lot of public money is being given to major corporations and all of these amazing black-owned businesses and other businesses in the city don’t get that kind of help," Willerer said. "Yet we call that development when a corporation comes in and puts up this brilliantly flashy sexy-looking store."
I suggest you read the whole thing and of course feel free to offer your thoughts here.

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