Once-promoted Englewood Whole Foods shuts down as health-focused grocer shoppers cry

The Whole Foods, which opened in Englewood six years ago for live music, TV ready politicians and outside lines, will be closed on Sundays with little fanfare.

The grocery store was once a point of optimism and pride in the South Side neighborhood, one of Chicago’s most depressed areas. But by Saturday, Whole Foods’ hot bar had turned cold. The freezer aisle was empty, save for a few fancy pints of “frozen fudge” avocado and low-calorie ice cream.

Items still available in the store have been reduced by 60 percent. Some shoppers took advantage of the massive discounts, pushing carts that looked more like rolling mountains piled high with what was left. Others mourned the closure of the store.

Barbara Harris, who follows a vegan diet, said she goes to Whole Foods almost every day for nuts and fresh fruit. However, most of her usual items had been sold out by the time she arrived on Saturday. She wished she had gone earlier.

“This is a beautiful place for us. “Now that I’m gone, I’m disappointed,” the 61-year-old resident of Englewood said.

Moving forward, Harris will need to shop at Hyde Park, which she says is more expensive and farther away. She added that the people who worked at the grocery store I made for her were always kind.

“It seems like every time we get something good in our neighborhood, something happens that takes it away,” Harris said.

The city spent $10.7 million to support the construction of the shopping center where the store is located. When Whole Foods announced the closure of the 832 W.

The company closed five more stores across the country “to position the whole foods market for long-term success” at the time, including a location near DePaul. It also opened a roughly 66,000-square-foot location in the Lower North neighborhood that same week.

Few grocery options remain in the neighborhood. The handful of few remaining grocery stores include a location for low-budget grocery Aldi nearby, and a smaller “Go Green Community Fresh Market” operated by the nonprofit Inner-City Muslim Action Network. Another Aldi relative in Auburn Gresham closed abruptly in June.

It is not yet clear what will replace whole foods. The sale agreement with the city requires a full-service grocery store to operate the Englewood Square development until late 2027.

The agreement requires that a new store be set up and operating within 18 months of leaving Whole Foods. That would put the deadline for a new grocery store in May 2024.

Chanda Daniels, who was shopping at the store on Saturday night, is a vegetarian like Harris. Whole Foods sold the items that enabled her diet. The 52-year-old said she has a car, so she can access other sites, “but a lot of people don’t.”

“This is a store that sells healthy food in a poor black neighborhood,” she said. “They had to find a way to make it stand.”

Daniels has moved west to suburban Justice, but the former Englewood resident occasionally continues shopping for elderly family members in the neighborhood and still remembers when the store first opened.

“I was glad, because I didn’t have to go far,” she said, adding that elderly people nearby would now likely have more difficulty getting quality groceries. “We really need places like this in neighborhoods like this.”

Sikkima Williams also remembered the opening of the store. She was starting an organic juice business, so it was convenient to have fresh produce nearby.

She was born and raised in the neighborhood, but has since moved to Oak Lawn. However, I stopped in for two gallons of water, pea soup, and bread. Inside, the shop she was once excited about was feeling kind of sad, said the 29-year-old inside.

“If you want healthy food, you might just have to travel for it. That was definitely a great thing we had,” Williams said.

Her grandmother lives nearby but doesn’t drive much, so she’ll get her stuff. Williams added that her grandmother loved the juice.

Derek Bassett, 70, remembers former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel pushing for the store’s opening in the community. He said he wasn’t surprised to see her nearby, as he walked his brown paper bags toward his car.

“Unless you have the fabric of the community, and some things in place, it’s not going to work,” said one Englewood resident, adding that he believed the neighborhood did not have enough economic stability to support expensive groceries in general.

Theresa Mac did not get all her groceries from the store because the prices were high, but she often stopped by when visiting the store for details.

“I got the donuts. The butcher and I have been working on enough short ribs to be a dinner I can eat for a while,” said Mac, who bought sparkling water and juice at the store on Saturday night.

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She said the store was close to home on the border of Englewood and Auburn Gresham. Now, she’ll have to drive longer distances to get higher-quality groceries, she said.

“I can’t get in the car and run down here,” Mac said.

You buy some small items, like bananas, at Aldi two blocks away, but the least expensive grocers won’t fill the remaining hole with high-quality Whole Foods sheets.

“I understand they had support to come here in the first place, big time. I feel like they were supposed to stay here… they could have kept it open,” Mac said.

Talia Suglin, Chicago Tribune reporter contributed.

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Twitter: @jakesheridan_

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