Lightfoot: Whole Foods closing ‘gut blow’ to Englewood, but ‘we’re gonna work our tails off’ to find replacement

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said her predecessor’s grand experiment was doomed from the start. Many in the community are “hard pressed to pay, for example, 15 bucks a pound for a piece of steak.”

SHARE Lightfoot: Whole Foods closing ‘gut blow’ to Englewood, but ‘we’re gonna work our tails off’ to find replacement
Shoppers head to Whole Foods Market in Englewood on Friday, the same day the company announced the store would be closing.

Shoppers head to Whole Foods Market in Englewood on Friday, the same day the company announced the store would be closing.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Amazon’s decision to close the Whole Foods store in Englewood is a “gut blow” to an impoverished community, but the grand experiment was doomed from the start, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday.

Lightfoot said she visited the soon-to-be-shuttered store on the day after the announcement to relay to store management and employees the assurances Amazon made to her when they gave her early warning about the closing.

“We cannot just rip the rug out from under that community. And particularly for those employees, I’ve been assured — and we’re gonna hold them to it — that all of those workers will be offered an opportunity to work in another Whole Foods store,” the mayor said.

With a relentless push from then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Whole Foods opened the Englewood store in 2016 amid concerns about whether residents of the impoverished South Side ward could afford to shop there.

The project depended on an $11 million city subsidy for site preparation that also required an expiring tax-increment-financing district to be extended while money was moved from a neighboring TIF.

Like local Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th), whose ward boundary is across the street from store, Lightfoot said she has known for a long time that Emanuel’s grand experiment wouldn’t work.

“I’ve been in that store too many times — before I was mayor, but certainly since — where on a Saturday where grocery stores all over the city are absolutely crowded with people and there’s nobody in that store,” the mayor said.

“There’s a reason for that. I don’t know about most of you, but most Chicagoans are hard pressed to pay, for example, 15 bucks a pound for a piece of steak.”

What Lightfoot calls the “great disappointment” and a “gut blow” to Englewood underscores a pivotal reality.

“You cannot bring investment to the community without talking to the community and making sure that investment makes sense for that community,” she said.

Before the city land that includes Whole Foods was sold to developer Leon Walker for $1, the City Council approved a redevelopment agreement requiring a grocery store on that parcel through 2027.

That means Walker must find a replacement grocer for the site. He can expect a considerable push — and help — from City Hall.

“Our commitment — and we’ve already started that — is to make sure that we don’t leave that store vacant. And we’re gonna work our tails off to get a new alternative, but one that the community wants and can access and participate in,” Lightfoot said.

“It shouldn’t be that we’re plopping something down in a community where we haven’t engaged with them, [where] we haven’t talked to relevant stakeholders to see if it’s something that they want and that they need and that they’re gonna be able to take advantage of.”

Several times over, Lightfoot stressed the decision to build the Whole Foods in Englewood was made by her predecessor.

“It was an interesting experiment. But one that obviously didn’t work. So we’ve got to make sure that we do, in this administration, a better job,” she said.

The search for a new grocer to replace a store that closed is not confined to Englewood.

Earlier this year, the City Council authorized the mayor to spend $700,000 to acquire the site of a shuttered Aldi store in West Garfield Park to rebuild the once-thriving Madison Street commercial corridor and prevent a West Side food desert from getting bigger.

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