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.”
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.
“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.”
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.
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.