Hanging with unburdened Mayor Emanuel as Whole Foods Englewood marks second year | Chicago Sun Tim

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other officials broke ground for the Jewel-Osco coming to Woodlawn, at 61st & Cottage Grove on March 7, 2018. | Photo: Brooke Collins

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other officials broke ground for the Jewel-Osco coming to Woodlawn, at 61st & Cottage Grove on March 7, 2018. | Photo: Brooke Collins

For Emanuel, tackling the problem of South and West Side communities with few groceries and healthy-eating choices was a key mayoral mission. It’s reflected not only here in Englewood, but with a new Mariano’s in Bronzeville, a new Wal-Mart in Roseland. And as he leaves office, a Jewel-Osco is headed to Woodlawn and a Shop & Save to South Shore.

“Nothing has an impact on a neighborhood’s economy like a grocery store,” says Emanuel, as he leaves Whole Foods.

“If you build a grocery store, you get a Starbuck’s, a Chipotle, a microbrewery. You pull a grocery store out, each of those fold up, because nothing produces foot traffic like this. There’s the health of the neighborhood economy and the health of the person shopping there. Have I eliminated all food deserts? No. Have I made a significant dent? I can say I’ve done my part.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other officials cut the ribbon at the Oct. 10, 2016, opening of a new Mariano’s in Bronzeville, at 38th Street & King Drive. | Photo: Brooke Collins

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other officials cut the ribbon at the Oct. 10, 2016, opening of a new Mariano’s in Bronzeville, at 38th Street & King Drive. | Photo: Brooke Collins

A Year After Whole Foods, Starbucks Debuts, Englewood Asks, "Whats Next?"


ENGLEWOOD — Whole Foods first opened its doors in Englewood a year ago, and with its success, community members are now asking, "What's next?"

Last September, some customers waited for as long as four hours for the store's 9 a.m. grand opening, and store officials said more than 3,000 people had shopped at the store by the end of the day. Over the summer, many residents said the store had turned into a community hub.

But the store has had an impact that goes beyond bringing a single business to the area, community members say now.

Englewood Square, where the grocery store is housed at 63rd Street and Halsted, is practically full, with all but one of the 10 storefronts leased, developer Leon Walker of DL3 Realty said. There has been interest in the remaining spot, he said.



The square is home to a Starbucks; Chipotle; Villa, Join the Movement, a clothier; Dress Code: Fashion by the Code; Nail Works; Wing Stop; Oak Street Health, a primary care clinic with a pharmacy; and soon a PNC Bank, he said.

“It’s so amazing,” to celebrate a year in business, Walker said. “There were a lot of doubters before [Whole Foods] opened.”

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Business growing

Other stores in the complex said business is picking up.

Store managers from Dress Code and Villa said business is sometimes slow, but since the shopping center has filled up, there’s more foot traffic and cars in the parking lot.

“We’ve had our ups and downs,” Dress Code manager Taleb Hassan said. The store opened Sept. 9, even before Whole Foods. “The parking lot has been a lot fuller with Wing Stop next door. It’s helped a lot.”

And Villa’s store manager, Vivi Wilkes, has been working since last year. She got promoted in July.

“It can be slow” at times, she said, “but I think the other stores help bring customers.”

Mary Curtis, 29, lives at 56th and Loomis. She shops and eats in the shopping center all the time, she said.

“I don’t have to go Downtown for Chipotle or Starbucks,” she said. “This is going to last. Now we have the same opportunity as people in other parts of the city. When this opened, I said, ‘Finally.’”

More economic development is crucial for the revitalization of Englewood, 17th Ward Ald. David Moore said. He said he’s pleased with the impact Englewood Square has had on the community, but more needs to be done.

“After one year, we should’ve been seeing this going from one end of Halsted to the next,” he said, from 63rd to 79th streets.

“We need to redevelop that whole Halsted corridor."

Moore said he’s working on bringing more commercial and residential development.

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“We’re in talks right now with some developers. Nothing concrete just yet, but it’s looking good.”

He also wants affordable veteran housing.

Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) said he also wants to see more for Greater Englewood. For him, that means more investment.

“As we move forward, our goal is to see how we can bring additional investment to the neighborhood,” he said.

Housing, better education and more jobs are just a few areas that need to be addressed for residents, Lopez said. He plans on working on them all in order to help improve the overall quality of life for Englewood residents, he said.

While new business is good for the community, he said he’s doing his part to ensure that it’s the right kind of business and something residents want.

To prevent developers or property owners from opening unwanted businesses without notice, Lopez said he’s been changing the zoning for parcels along 63rd Street to give residents a voice.

“Prior to my action, anyone could’ve popped in along 63rd street and other parts of the ward and just put up whatever they wanted to, as long as it met the zoning requirements,” he said. “And with no input from the community or alderman, we would quite literally wake up one day and see something brand new, and not necessarily something that was a positive for the neighborhood.”

Phase two

Walker said he’s amazed at the impact his development has already had on the community, but it isn’t the end. He said the city is working on the next phase.

“There are a lot of plans being discussed,” Walker said. “It’s not public, but there’s certainly an active discussion. We hear there is a great deal of interest in just buying homes, and that’s really important to have that investment.”

Investing in Englewood is personal for Walker, he said, because his mother grew up in Englewood and went to Englewood High School. Both of his parents were teachers there.

And since construction for Englewood Square began in 2013, he and Moore said there have been no major violent crimes near that 63rd and Halsted intersection.

“Crime issues are still present throughout Chicago, but we’re starting to carve out zones of safety where people can live and shop and work,” he said. “So 63rd and Halsted is becoming one of those neighborhood hubs that people can come to and feel relatively safe.”

For Walker, everything that’s happening is a part of the ripple effect that he always said would happen.

“This shows that economic development has a role,” he said. “We can’t just evaluate the success by the four walls of the shopping center. We have to evaluate the success of the project by how it’s changing the narrative of Englewood.”

The community is more than ready for change, he said. 

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For Milton Taylor, who has lived in Englewood since 1976, the shopping center is a step in the right direction.

“Before this store, there was nothing at this caliber before,” Taylor said, adding that while it can be slow sometimes, “no business is declared successful in the first year.”

“This used to be a slum area, with just a Walgreens. So now we have options,” he said.

Englewood Square will officially celebrate its one-year anniversary Monday. The event will be co-hosted by Walker and will include food, awards, dignitaries and a VIP tasting. All of the nearly 40 local entrepreneurs who landed their products on the shelves of Whole Foods have been invited. 

Englewood Starbucks a Big Success After one year Opening

It may seem like there's a Starbucks on every corner in Chicago, but that's not the case in some of the city's more impoverished neighborhoods.

Which is why it was big news last year when Starbucks opened its first store in Englewood, a neighborhood infamous for high crime and low employment. But one year later, the store is a big success.

KK Williams is the manager of the Englewood Starbucks and like most of its employees, she's a resident of Englewood as well.

"It has been awesome. The customers, the partners, the area. Everybody's welcomed us. It's been one great ride,” Williams said.

On Wednesday, Starbucks threw a party to celebrate a successful first year as part of the new Englewood Square Development on West 63rd, which also includes a Whole Foods store and a handful of other retailers.

It’s been a rare success story in one of the city's poorest and most crime-ridden neighborhoods.

Also today, Chicago police met with customers as part of the department's "Coffee with a Cop" day.

"It has made a huge difference. Whole Foods, Starbucks, they are premier brands. And to bring those brands here into the Englewood community is saying 'Hi, Englewood is morning, Englewood is rising,'" said Officer Oneta Sampson.

Rachel Bernier-Green owns a Morgan Park bakery that supplies red velvet cheesecake brownies to this and ten other Starbucks on the south side.

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"It's been absolutely phenomenal. When you walk into any other sales meeting and you tell them I work with Starbucks, it opens a lot of other doors,” said Bernier-Green.

And the meeting room in the store is used as part of a jobs training program.

"To help young people ages 16 to 24 acquire some customer service training skills. So that's been really good because almost 100 people have gone through the program in the first year,” said Perry Gunn of Teamwork Englewood.

The city is hoping the new Englewood Square Development will jump-start other new investment along the 63rd Street corridor, which used to be one of Chicago’s busiest shopping areas.

Big names Tapped to lead Amazon Effort

Penny Pritzer

Penny Pritzer

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Bruce Rauner have pulled together a mix of familiar and new faces from Chicago's corporate community to lead the city's effort to land a major Amazon expansion.

Co-chairs of the committee, a group of civic and community leaders that has more than 600 members, are Oscar Munoz, CEO of United Airlines; Penny Pritzker, former U.S. Secretary of Commerce who now runs investment firm PSP Capital; Jim Reynolds, CEO of Loop Capital; and Miles White, CEO of Abbott Laboratories and a former chairman of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club. (Check the full list at the end of this story.)

Pritzker, Reynolds and White are longtime civic leaders in Chicago. Munoz is a newcomer who grew up in Los Angeles and came to Chicago from Florida two years ago.

Emanuel and Rauner are honorary co-chairs of the committee; and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is honorary vice-chair.

Pritzker was among a small group that traveled to Seattle last week to see Amazon's campus and learn more about the company. Letters went out from the mayor and governor last week to potential supporters throughout the Chicago area, asking them to join the committee to help land Amazon, which set off a nationwide feeding frenzy Sept. 7 when it said it was looking for a second headquarters that could generate up to 50,000 jobs paying an average of more than $100,000 each over 10 to 15 years.

Today is the deadline for real estate developers to submit to the city possible sites for the Amazon project, which is expected to start with at least 500,000 square feet but could grow to 8 million square feet.

Pritzker and her co-chairs will help lead the corporate charge and rally community support, as well as help orchestrate the city's message, should Chicago become a serious contender for the Amazon project, dubbed HQ2.

If the playbook seems familiar, it's very similar to how Chicago tackled the 2016 Olympic bid a decade ago. The key difference will be speed. The Olympic bid played out over years. The Amazon chase will be done in months.

The e-commerce giant set an Oct. 16-19 deadline for responses to its request for proposals. More than 50 cities have indicated plans to bid on the project. Bidders and observers expect Amazon to move quickly, potentially choosing a list of finalists as early as year-end with a final decision in the first or second quarter of 2018.

Whole Foods' first year in Englewood Proved To Be A 'Mixed Year'


One year ago, the much-anticipated Whole Foods grocery opened in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood, a black South Side community with corner stores more overstocked with junk food than groceries brimming with healthy options.

Questions swirled about how the store would be affordable to shoppers in this low-income community. While store officials said sales are not what the company had hoped, the store has emerged as a local hub and catalyst for bringing in new businesses to the long-disinvested corridor around 63rd and Halsted streets.

“It’s been definitely a mixed year in terms of results,” said Walter Robb, the former Whole Foods co-CEO who chairs the nonprofit Whole Cities Foundation. “Have we accomplished everything we wanted to? No. Have the sales been all that we hoped? No. Have we created a gathering place for people? Have we created some jobs? Have we brought some new choices to the community that perhaps didn’t exist before? Yes we have.”

On Thursday, the store celebrated its one-year anniversary with a free farmers market in the parking lot. Residents said there are advantages to note, and also more to be done.

Englewood residents Linda Love and Douglas Carr get free farmer’s market tickets from Vivana Proano, a regional marketer with Whole Foods. (Andrew Gill/WBEZ)


What’s worked

Englewood residents have a place to buy fresh fruit and vegetables. This Whole Foods is also one of the few sit-down restaurants in the neighborhood. On Friday nights, the grocery hosts a happy hour with wine tastings, food stations, and music — either a live band or DJ — making it a community hub. The store also offers yoga, nutrition, and belly dancing classes.

The store stocks products from local vendors and has provided more than 70 jobs, according to store officials. Whole Cities Foundation has sponsored a business competition challenge for Englewood. The foundation has also given Englewood groups $74,000.

“This place has become a center for the community and that’s something that we all thought of, but it unfolded in a way past what I thought could happen, my vision for it,” said Cecile De Mello, community engagement specialist for the Whole Foods Englewood store.


Room for improvement

Community activists said the company has kept its promises to the neighborhood. Prices are cheaper than other area Whole Foods, but they’ve also fluctuated. When the store first opened, sandwiches were six dollars — now they are eight. Whole Foods officials said there are more opportunities for price reductions since Amazon acquired the grocer. For example, the price of bananas in Englewood have continued to decrease. Milk and eggs tend to be cheaper than other Whole Foods.

The price of organic shredded mozzarella cheese also dropped a few cents after Amazon bought Whole Foods. (Andrew Gill/WBEZ)

There’s still the perception that the fresh and organic grocer lives up to the moniker “Whole Paycheck.” Asiaha Butler, of the community groups R.A.G.E. and Grow Greater Englewood, said while it’s a community hub on Friday nights, weekends tend to be empty.

Butler said the company appears to be committed to the store and the neighborhood, but more food education is needed.

“The community activists and advocates are totally aware of what’s happening at Whole Foods and love it,” Butler said. “It’s become a meet-up place. But those grandmothers on the block may not know what’s here and what’s accessible. Some more heavier marketing [is needed,].”

Other critiques are that the store needs to offer more cooking classes and lessons on how to shop at the specialty store.

A mural in the Englewood Whole Foods shows a child biting into a bright green apple. Some residents say awareness of increased options for fresh produce hasn't reached the community in the way the store had envisioned. (Andrew Gill/WBEZ)


New Businesses

The Whole Foods helped attract a Starbucks and Chipotle to the Englewood Square shopping area, officials said last year.

“It’s brought a whole different type of energy to the corner of 63rd and Halsted. It’s bringing attention to get new investors to come back,” said Perry Gunn, executive director of the nonprofit Teamwork Englewood, which is located directly across the street from Whole Foods.

This year, the city named part of 63rd Street a retail thrive zone, which means local small businesses are able to get grants up to $250,000. Nine businesses have gotten grants to come to 63rd Street. They include black retailers from Englewood. By next year, a brewery, soul food restaurant, design firm, shared commercial kitchen space, and barber college are expected to open.

New Discussion Paper Venture Development Paper Released by DL3 Capital


CHICAGO, Nov. 2, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Leon I. Walker, managing partner,  DL3 Capital, has released a discussion paper designed to share his experiences in an emerging field of real estate development that he calls "Venture Development." The document, titled, "Venture Development: an Opportunity for Private Investors to Drive Concordant Change in the American Inner City," is available for review at http://www.dl3realty.com/venturedevelopment.

Venture Development is a modern, sustainable economic development strategy through which equity investors can pursue positive holistic change in urban neighborhoods, while earning competitive risk-adjusted financial returns.

DL3 has successfully implemented this practice by developing real estate projects that have helped revitalize Chicago's urban communities. Its projects are more than just bricks and mortar. They are designed to provide an economic stimulus that ultimately lifts economic prospects and quality-of-life for local residents.

"Nationally, we are seeing an increasing number of projects driven by Venture Development principles, and we believe this points to a growing opportunity for municipalities, institutions and philanthropic stakeholders to join together with private developers and investors to equitably transform and speed the recovery of rising urban neighborhoods," says Walker.

Through the discussion paper, Walker shares his investment philosophy and approach with others who recognize that investing in urban neighborhoods can be financially rewarding in the long run, while providing attractive social impact returns in the short run.

Based on his own experiences in the field, the paper explores the conditions that signal when a community in a state of economic stagnation could pivot toward a future with greater local economic opportunity. The paper describes DL3's perspective on five phases of neighborhood economic development, the best entry point for investors, and the concept of a "risk premium" that often saddles disinvested communities. Supporting case studies are provided including lessons learned from DL3's Englewood Square project, which in partnership with the City of Chicago, brought Whole Foods, Chipotle and Starbucks to the Englewood community of Chicago's South Side.

"My community development work has been concentrated in neighborhoods that rarely attract unsubsidized private equity capital – but where others see poverty, blight and risk, I recognize that under the right circumstances, great opportunity exists for meaningful and rewarding investments," Walker adds.

Walker, who was raised on Chicago's South Side, is an experienced corporate real estate professional who is passionate about revitalizing Chicago's underserved communities. In his community development work, Walker has been involved in structuring over $100 million in New Markets Tax Credit transactions.   He is involved in many community initiatives including the Greater Chicago Food Depository, and he serves on the advisory board of the Marshall Bennett Institute of Real Estate at Roosevelt University and the government relations committee of the International Council of Shopping Centers(ICSC).

DL3 Capital is a general partner of DL3 Realty, a commercial real estate company known for its commitment to Chicago's urban neighborhoods. Among its many projects are Roseland Medical Center, Monterey Professional Center and Englewood Square.  Current projects include a Jewel/Osco grocery store in Chicago'sWoodlawn neighborhood and the University of Illinois Mile Square Health Center in South Shore.  DL3 developments have won numerous awards including the LISC-Chicago Most Outstanding Development Award in 2009 and 2017.

POAH to Open New Jewel-Osco in Woodlawn

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This past April, the Chicago chapter of Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH) capped off a series of redevelopments in Woodlawn with the announcement that a Jewel-Osco supermarket will open in 2019 on the corner of East 61st Street and South Cottage Grove Avenue.

Located just south of UChicago, the upcoming 48,000-square-foot store and pharmacy is “expected to create more than 200 jobs,” according to a statement to The Maroon from a representative of Jewel-Osco. According to the supermarket chain’s website, Jewel-Osco currently runs 187 stores throughout Chicagoland, Indiana, and Iowa.

More significantly, POAH’s achievement will end Woodlawn’s colloquial status as a food desert. According to the American Nutrition Association, food deserts “are defined as parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas. This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers.” A variety of factors, including distance from grocery stores and types of food (e.g. fresh or not) offered at stores, play into what designates an area as a food desert.

Woodlawn’s food desert status isn’t exactly clear-cut. A USDA food access atlas defined a tract of Woodlawn as a low-income, low­–food access area based on data from 2015. A 2013 Progress Illinois feature noted that the accessibility of food retailers meant “by the city’s definition, Woodlawn is not a food desert.… It now has large food retailers, like Save-A-Lot, Aldi, and Walgreens, that most residents can walk to.” However, “these particular chain stores often have inflated prices and a small selection of often low-quality produce.” 

According to their mission statement, POAH aims to “preserve, create and sustain affordable, healthy homes that support economic security and access to opportunity for all.” The nonprofit redevelops land, works to secure affordable housing, and offers a variety of financial education resources for Chicago residents. By bringing a full-service Jewel-Osco to the area, POAH hopes to expand the healthy options available in Woodlawn. A Whole Foods that opened last year in Englewood serves a similar purpose.

The Jewel-Osco isn’t POAH’s first project in Woodlawn. In a press release announcing the store, the nonprofit mentioned how it “has replaced deteriorating public housing with five new apartment complexes” and was working on developments including the Woodlawn Station, which it describes as a “transit-oriented development,” encompassing 70 mixed-income apartments and 15,000 square feet of retail next to the 63rd and Cottage Grove Green Line station. The nearby MetroSquash—a recreational center with an emphasis on youth programming—is yet another POAH project. In 2011, POAH secured a $30.5 million HUD Choice Neighborhoods Initiative grant for Chicago, which helped fund its partner, Woodlawn Community Center.

According to POAH’s Chicago area Vice President Bill Eager, POAH’s efforts in Woodlawn are centered around the Grove Parc Plaza apartments, a property that POAH bought in 2008 in poor condition and has since been redeveloping.

“One of our goals has been to bring a new grocery store to Woodlawn,” Eager told The Maroon. “The deal to bring Jewel is really something we've been working on for several years in fits and starts.” POAH had been talking with other potential grocers, without success, for years; they came close to inking a deal with Mariano’s until that grocer was sold in 2015.

In the first half of 2016, POAH started partnering with commercial developer Leon Walker of DL3 Realty, the developer behind the Whole Foods in Englewood. Walker believed it would be possible to attract Jewel-Osco to the area and formed a joint venture between DL3 and real estate developer Terraco. Eager explains how it all came together, “Jewel [Osco] came on the scene and said that they were very interested… [POAH] put in the land and [DL3 is] going to develop the site; Jewel is going lease it and operate it.”

The University of Chicago played a role in the arrival of the Jewel-Osco. While the University and POAH have never collaborated on a development, Eager said the University was “very helpful in getting the grocery store here in terms of signaling to Jewel that that they wanted a new grocery store in their backyard.” Eager further lauded the University’s other developments and investments in Woodlawn, and that it made clear “how important their South Campus is to them and how important the health of Woodlawn is to its future.”

According to Eager, having a full-service grocer such as Jewel-Osco has been a goal of the Woodlawn community for many years, and says that the nonprofit “had always set aside this parcel [on 61st and Cottage Grove]” as the “best potential site for a grocery store.”

“One of the things I really like about the [institution of a] grocery store is that it brings commerce to a community. It's not only going to be there for people who live in Woodlawn, [but will also] bring people from outside of Woodlawn into Woodlawn to spend money and create commercial activity,” Eager said.

Eager said that POAH hopes to work with Jewel-Osco to make sure that most of the positions at the store are filled by Woodlawn residents.

Mayor Emanuel Breaks Ground on New Jewel-Osco in Woodlawn


48,000-Sq. Ft. Store Will Bring Fresh Quality Food Options to the Woodlawn Neighborhood

Mayor Rahm Emanuel today broke ground on the new Jewel-Osco on the northwest corner of 61st Street and Cottage Grove Avenue. The full-service grocery store and drive-through pharmacy store will bring high-quality fresh food options to the Woodlawn community. 

“Today we are breaking ground on the next phase of the renaissance and resurgence happening across Woodlawn,” Mayor Emanuel said. “This new grocery store will bring fresh food options to a community that is witnessing an unprecedented level of investment, growth and progress.”

The 48,000-square-foot store will employ approximately 200 full-and part-time workers when it opens in early 2019. The full-service supermarket will offer fresh produce, a deli counter, ready-to-eat meals and a variety of service for customers. The store will be developed by a joint venture of Terraco and DL3, which will lease the facility to Jewel-Osco.

“This is a proud moment for Jewel-Osco,” said Doug Cygan, President of Jewel-Osco. “This new location underscores our commitment to providing good jobs, fresh produce and other essentials in order to help enhance a community.” 

"Woodlawn is in the midst of a renaissance, and we are pleased to partner with Mayor Emanuel to bring Woodlawn its first full-service grocery store in over 40 years," said Leon Walker, Managing Partner of DL3 Realty. "This new Jewel-Osco store will bring fresh food options to residents, provide hundreds of jobs to the community, lead to even more revitalization efforts and help ensure Woodlawn becomes a community of choice for families in Chicago.”

The new grocery store and pharmacy is the latest in a surge of developments along South Cottage Grove Avenue near 61st Street, which is just minutes from the future home of the Obama Presidential Center. The new store is steps from MetroSquash, a recreational and educational center, a new residence hall for University of Chicago, six new POAH apartment buildings, including the first market-rate apartment development to be built in Woodlawn in decades plus the Woodlawn Resource Center, a rehabilitated Strand Hotel, new dining options, coffee shops, single-family homes, condominiums and more. Earlier this year Mayor Emanuel announced the upcoming modernization of the 63rd and Cottage CTA station.

A dozen Woodlawn businesses participating in the City’s SBIF program have used more than $655,000 in grant funding to make nearly $1 million in building improvements, and more than 200 homes have received Neighborhood Improvement Program grants for basic repairs. Other nearby investments include the Shankman Orthogenic School and Hyde Park Day School.

Ground Breaking for New Jewel-Osco in Woodlawn


The demand from a coalition of community groups for a binding community benefits agreement for the Obama Presidential Center continued Wednesday during a groundbreaking ceremony for a new Jewel-Osco supermarket at 61st Street and Cottage Grove Avenue in Woodlawn. Members of Kenwood Oakland Community Organization and Southside Together Organizing for Power picketed the site with signs and bullhorns. Inside a heated tent on the site, a small number of community residents supporting the push for a benefits agreement took seats in front, quietly listening to remarks from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Alderman Willie Cochran and developers. The site is the last parcel of undeveloped land from the former Grove Parc affordable housing projects. Preservation of Affordable Housing Chicago, which has spent the past six years redeveloping the site into a mix of market-rate, affordable and low-income housing and retail, sold the site to a joint venture of DL3 Realty and Terraco Real Estate Development and Management last year for $2M. Jewel-Osco will build the store and enter into a ground lease with DL3. The store is expected to open later this year.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel (center) is joined by POAH Chicago Region Vice President Bill Eager (left), POAH CEO Aaron Gornstein (third from left), DL3 Realty Manager Leon Walker (center left), 25th Ward Alderman Willie Cochran (center right) and Jewel-Osco Director of Real Estate David Hene (third from right) at the groundbreaking of a Jewel-Osco in Woodlawn, March 7, 2018.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel (center) is joined by POAH Chicago Region Vice President Bill Eager (left), POAH CEO Aaron Gornstein (third from left), DL3 Realty Manager Leon Walker (center left), 25th Ward Alderman Willie Cochran (center right) and Jewel-Osco Director of Real Estate David Hene (third from right) at the groundbreaking of a Jewel-Osco in Woodlawn, March 7, 2018.

Emanuel said the redevelopment of Woodlawn will be used as a point of pride for younger residents in the community. "The kids in Woodlawn will walk past this grocery store and say 'this is my neighborhood,'" Emanuel said. Jewel-Osco Director of Real Estate David Hene said the company is committed to hiring employees from the store from within the Woodlawn community.

A year in, Whole Foods' Englewood project still a work in progress

One year after opening, Englewood's Whole Foods store has had some success, but company officials say there's still work to do.

One year after opening, Englewood's Whole Foods store has had some success, but company officials say there's still work to do.

Almost one year ago, the doors of Englewood’s Whole Foods Market swung open, the culmination of a bold plan to open an upscale grocery store in one of Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods.

No “mission accomplished” banner has yet been hoisted at 63rd and Halsted.

Whole Foods — anchor of the city-subsidized Englewood Square development — has made good on promises of providing jobs, supporting local vendors and boosting healthy food options. The store has, for some, improved quality of life and perhaps even paved the way for future large-scale investment in Englewood.

But Whole Foods acknowledges there’s still much work to be done, particularly in connecting with shoppers on a tight budget who may be unfamiliar with natural and organic products. And the mostly black neighborhood’s well-documented struggles of poverty and crime, exacerbated by lack of economic development, remain steep challenges for business.

As the hype has died down, some questions still linger: Will it work? Will the community support the store?

“That’s something we’re still finding out from week to week,” said Michael Bashaw, Whole Foods Midwest region president. “People will make their choices and in the end, the businesses that reach out to the community and try to meet their needs are the ones that will survive.”

Whole Foods doesn’t disclose sales or profits for individual stores. Bashaw also wouldn’t say how the Englewood store performed in comparison to other Whole Foods locations in the city, but said the store is matching expectations specific to Englewood.

“Certainly we’re a company, and companies evaluate their business all the time. But we got into this (location) from a mission-based perspective and we’re still looking at it that way,” Bashaw said.

For the now-Amazon-owned Whole Foods, the Englewood store represents a rarity. Of the grocery chain’s more than 460 locations in the U.S., four of them are situated in impoverished neighborhoods, including communities in Detroit, New Orleans and Newark, N.J.

None is more difficult than Englewood.

“Englewood is the biggest challenge we’ve ever undertaken as a company trying to serve a community. It’s been the most challenging, and not necessarily in a bad way. But it’s only one year in,” said Walter Robb, former co-CEO of Whole Foods who is now chairman of Whole Cities Foundation, an affiliated nonprofit that’s also active in Englewood.

Bashaw said he didn’t expect Amazon’s ownership of the company to have any bearing on the Englewood store.

More businesses moving in nearby could help bring more foot traffic to Englewood Square, which also includes a Starbucks and a Chipotle Mexican Grill. Negotiations are ongoing for the development of the seven city-owned acres adjacent to Englewood Square, said Deputy Mayor Andrea Zopp, who declined to provide further details.

“We have a lot of work to do (in Englewood) and we’re not done yet,” Zopp said. “One of the things we push back on all the time is people want these neighborhoods flipped overnight. They didn’t get this way overnight. But we are committed.”

Neighborhood boost

The Englewood Whole Foods clearly has benefited some people who live and work in the community.

When it opened, Whole Foods hired about 40 of its 100 employees from Englewood, according to the company. It also provided shelf space for almost 40 local vendors, many of whom now also sell their wares in other Whole Foods locations in the Chicago area. Some of them have since hired more people from Englewood.

And some residents and community leaders say the Englewood Square development has made that part of the neighborhood feel safer.

Englewood District Cmdr. Kenneth Johnson declined to comment on the impact of specific businesses, but said “economic and community development are integral to making neighborhoods safer.”

From Sept. 28 of last year, when the store opened, to Aug. 1 of this year, police have responded to fewer calls for assistance at the Englewood store than almost every other Whole Foods location in the city, according to Chicago Police Department data. There are some caveats: store hours vary by location and fewer incidents could be tied to less foot traffic.

There’s also the ripple effect on other businesses. One example: Next fall, a microbrewery called Englewood Brews plans to open just across 63rd Street from Whole Foods.

Co-founder Lesley Roth cited the recent and planned economic development in the neighborhood, as well as an underlying feeling of community hope, as reasons for locating her business in Englewood. The brewery won $10,000 last year through a business plan competition organized by the nonprofit Teamwork Englewood and funded by Whole Foods, as well as a $250,000 small business grant from the city — part of almost $1 million total awarded to nine Englewood businesses through the citywide retail thrive zone program.

The mere fact that Whole Foods is in Englewood signals opportunity to other businesses, said Perry Gunn, executive director of Teamwork Englewood, which partnered with Whole Foods on job training and recruitment for the store’s hiring.

“It’s like an economic engine. People see Whole Foods and they see a store like this can make it in Englewood,” Gunn said.

Leon Walker, managing partner of DL3 Realty, the developer of the shopping complex, said the store’s already proven itself a success.

“(Englewood Square) was meant to be a ripple in the pond that would draw more businesses. It was never meant to be a silver bullet,” Walker said.

Prices an obstacle

Still, even some Whole Foods patrons cast a skeptical eye on who the store is really serving in the community.

Is this store for Englewood now, or for the bustling, revitalized neighborhood envisioned by developers and city officials?

“When I go in here, I don’t see the same people from the neighborhood. I see a lot of teachers and cops and people cruising through here trying to gentrify the area,” said Greg Goodman, 33, a teacher at the nearby Lindblom Math and Science Academy.

Prices — and perception of prices at Whole Foods — remain an obstacle. A couple of blocks east on 63rd Street, several Englewood residents leaving Aldi, a discount grocery chain, said they liked having Whole Foods in the neighborhood, but didn’t shop there often.

“I’ve been in there a couple times, but I try to stick to my budget. I have kids,” said Donte Jackson, 29, a prep cook at a barbecue restaurant and father of three young children.

Many Englewood residents want to eat healthier food, but can’t afford it, said Vince O’Neal, 42.

“If Whole Foods could come up with more affordable prices, they would reap the benefit. I promise you that,” O’Neal said.

Whole Foods did price staple items throughout the Englewood store lower than at other locations. And after Amazon bought Whole Foods over the summer, the company further reduced prices on some other products companywide — though some industry analysts concluded those price cuts were more about marketing than substantive change.

Englewood remains one of the city’s areas of concentrated poverty, ranking fifth in economic hardship out of Chicago’s 77 community areas, according to an analysis last year by the Great Cities Institute at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Englewood had the highest percentage of households living in poverty, 48.3 percent, and the third lowest per capita income, $11,281, according to the study.

None of these challenges come as a surprise to Iris Patterson, one of the vendors who got a break with the Englewood Whole Foods.

Patterson, an Englewood native who makes hair care products targeted at black women, said she’s grateful for the opportunity that Whole Foods has afforded her in growing her business, Iris Botanicals, which is now in three other Whole Foods locations.

One year after opening, Englewood's Whole Foods store has had some success, but company officials say there's still work to do.

But she worries about the store’s long-term prospects for success.

“The No. 1 concern in that community is survival,” said Patterson, who now lives near the Chatham neighborhood. “Eating fresh is not top of mind.”

Connecting with community

The soft background music cut off, replaced with a sudden burst of ambient hip-hop beats from turntables near the registers. Heads began to nod. Shoulders started shimmying. The warm din of conversation and laughter slowly gained volume, punctuated by the occasional popping of wine corks.

It was Friday night at the Englewood Whole Foods.

Every week, more than 100 people show up for the store’s wine and food pairing promotion — one of the unexpected successes for the store in its first year of operation. On this particular night, the culinary theme was Cuban street food.

“I love it. People can talk and learn about food and wine — and it feels safe,” said Kathy Manuel, 59-year-old retired teacher and longtime Englewood resident who sipped prosecco with her daughter in the produce department.

In year one, the Englewood store has filled various roles in its quest to connect with residents: community meeting space, bastion of healthy food and, yes, a place to safely drink a glass of wine.

Over the past year, Addison Shields has observed the ebb and flow of cars in the Whole Foods parking lot from the window of Teamwork Englewood. A retired pastor, Shields, 68, works at the nonprofit as a part-time bookkeeper.

Addison Shields, 68, purchases groceries at the Englewood Whole Foods on Sept. 20, 2017, in Chicago. Shields took healthy cooking and eating classes at the store and says he was able to lose weight and reduce his blood sugar levels. 

Addison Shields, 68, purchases groceries at the Englewood Whole Foods on Sept. 20, 2017, in Chicago. Shields took healthy cooking and eating classes at the store and says he was able to lose weight and reduce his blood sugar levels.    (Erin Hooley / Chicago Tribune)

Addison Shields, 68, purchases groceries at the Englewood Whole Foods on Sept. 20, 2017, in Chicago. Shields took healthy cooking and eating classes at the store and says he was able to lose weight and reduce his blood sugar levels. 

 (Erin Hooley / Chicago Tribune)

After participating in healthy eating classes at Whole Foods for about four months, Shields said he shed more than 30 pounds and was able to stop taking some of his diabetes medication because of reduced blood sugar levels.

Gone are the barbecue ribs, bacon and eggs, and french fries, Shields said, replaced with almonds, smoothies and salads.

“In the long run, I think it’s going to very successful,” Shields said of the 18,000-square-foot grocery store.

Both Whole Foods executives and Englewood community leaders emphasize that the store is just one component of a larger movement to improve quality of life in Englewood. Asiaha Butler, president of the Resident Association of Greater Englewood, said Whole Foods has raised awareness of healthy living in a community that sorely needs it.

“I think it can work, but it’s a slow process,” Butler said. “I do think they’re here to stay.”