May 2, 2022 - Business

Whole Foods abandons Englewood

People cheering at t grocery store

Customers cheer at the Sept. 28, 2016, grand opening of the Whole Foods Market in Chicago's Englewood neighborhood. Photo: Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

After six years, Whole Foods is shutting down its Englewood store.

Why it matters: When the store was breaking ground in 2014, former Whole Foods co-CEO Walter Robb said it was aimed at bringing food "education'' and "fresh, healthy food choices" to the area.

  • Some also saw it as a litmus test for the viability of premium food stores in low-income areas — not to mention a test of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's commitment to revitalizing Englewood.

Flashback: The store was part of a larger Whole Foods experiment that also brought stores to struggling areas of Detroit and New Orleans, helped by tax incentives for developers.

  • But a year after the Englewood location opened, WBEZ's Natalie Moore reported mixed results and disappointing sales.
  • "We haven't done the kind of business we wanted to do," Robb told Moore in 2017.

The latest: Despite Robb's original mission, those sales finally drove the company to cut bait this week.

What they're saying: "We regularly evaluate the performance and growth potential of each of our stores, and we have made the difficult decision to close six stores [nationwide]," a Whole Foods spokesperson said in a statement to Axios.

  • Notably, those six stores don't include the experimental New Orleans and Detroit stores.

Local reaction: "Corporations have a history of pulling out of our communities, taking our food sources away," local congressional candidate Jahmal Cole wrote on Facebook Friday.

Yes, but: Cole said the closing also presents an "opportunity" to support local solutions like the newly opened Go Green Community Fresh Market, which brings "healthy, fresh foods to our communities in a way that's affordable and accessible."

  • Starbucks and Chipotle, which opened in the wake of Whole Foods' debut, remain in the Englewood Square shopping area.
  • And an Aldi operates just two blocks away.

What's next: A Whole Foods spokesperson says the company will close the Englewood store in "coming months" as well as a location near DePaul this Friday.

  • They say they "expect that all interested, eligible Team Members will find positions at our other locations."

Remaining stores: Whole Foods will still operate 11 stores in Chicago including one in the South Loop and one in Hyde Park.

Monica's thought bubble: I hope this doesn't put an end to experiments aimed at bringing healthier food options to low-income communities.

  • But I am also interested to explore how the Detroit and New Orleans stores, opened around the same time, thrived in ways the Englewood store didn't.

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