Healthy foods and more for the South Side

Local pastor Joseph Owolabi at the opening of the new Whole Foods in Englewood
Local pastor Joseph Owolabi at the opening of the new Whole Foods in Englewood Sept. 28. (Karys Belger/MEDILL)

By Karys Belger

Rich, green cucumbers; vibrant, yellow squash and red tomatoes create a brilliant display. This is the first sight that greets you when you enter the Whole Foods at 832 W. 63rd St.

It’s a sight that seems foreign for Lisa Marsh,  who spent most of her life in Englewood.

“I’m hoping this location will help encourage folks to eat cleaner and try stuff, and know that healthy, clean eating can be delicious,” she said standing in the recently opened supermarket. It’s opening was a symbol for what many hope will help raise up a largely financially troubled area.

The 18,000 square foot store, which opened in September, was built partially with a $10.7 million grant  in the form of tax financing from Chicago. The store’s goal upon opening was  hiring 90 workers mostly from the community and including several dozen local suppliers. In a city of many food deserts, it was seen as one front in a larger struggle.

And while some see the supermarket’s arrival as a building block, others wonder. Is one supermarket enough to herald the renaissance of a poor black community beset by segregation and a lack of strong economic roots?

“We need to invest in these areas.” Cook County Commissioner Richard R. Boykin (D) said on the day of the store’s opening when discussing the Chicago’s black political agenda. “People need jobs. We need to put businesses there to make it happen.”

One of the main concerns about the supermarket was whether it’s prices would fit the community’s wallets.

Whole Foods is traditionally known as a more expensive source for groceries. So, too, Starbucks, which opened next door to the supermarket, is not considered a low cost option.

But shoppers have been encouraged by what they see.

“I’ve noticed that the prices are better,” said Victoria Jameson. Though not an Englewood resident, she decided to step into the much publicized location on her way to work to see what the store has to offer and possibly to pick up dinner for herself and her husband.

“They’re better than some of the other stores like Hyde Park,” she remarked as she strolled the aisles. She picked up some meat and spinach, her husband’s favorite ice cream, and some cheese. Moving along, she seemed pleased, nodding when she saw prices that she could afford.

Indeed, overall there is a sense of optimism from residents like local pastor, Joseph Owolabi.

“I think it will help bring a lot of other businesses. If they find a business model that is effective, I think it’s going to help other businesses and attract positive businesses here, which we need.”

Owolabi is also excited about the classes the store will provide that will teach locals, such as the kids he mentors, what fresh food options are available and how to properly cook with the products sold in the store.

“I think there’s a lot of good in the hood, especially in Englewood. Nobody covers it.”

Employees have noticed especially the impact of the store’s effort  to attract people in this community. The combination of classes, low prices, and locally made products seems to be doing the trick, they suggested.

“There’s no reason a store like this couldn’t be here” said Greg Harris. A long-time employee of Whole Foods, Harris was brought in to help oversee the opening of the Englewood location.

“The sense I get is that people want to have access to these things. Now they have it.”

Brandy Jones, a cashier, noticed that customers have been shopping regularly since the opening

“It’s been a steady flow,” she said “I’m hoping it stays that way.”

So does Lisa Marsh whose organic granola currently sits on a shelf in the store in a section specifically created to highlight the contributions of local residents.

“I grew up here, so I’m happy to see any efforts to bring opportunities to this area”

Photo at top: Local pastor Joseph Owolabi at the opening of the new Whole Foods in Englewood Sept. 28. (Karys Belger/MEDILL)