The Whole Foods that opened in Englewood six years ago to live music, TV-ready politicians and lines out the door will close Sunday with little fanfare.
The grocery store had never been point of optimism and pride in the South Side neighborhood, one of Chicago’s most economically depressed areas. But by Saturday, the Whole Foods hot bar had gone cold. The freezer aisle was empty, save for a few fancy pints of avocado “frozen desserts” and low calorie ice cream.
Items still in the store are marked down 60 percent. Some shoppers take advantage of deep discounts, pushing carts that look more like rolling mountains piled high with what’s left. Others mourned the closing of the shop.
Barbara Harris, who eats a vegan diet, goes to Whole Foods almost every day for nuts and fresh fruit, she said. However, many of the usual items were sold out when he arrived on Saturday. He wanted to go earlier.
“It’s a good place for us. And now that it’s gone, I’m just disappointed,” said the 61-year-old Englewood resident.
In the future, Harris will have to shop at the Hyde Park store, which she says is more expensive and further away. The people who work at the grocery store he works for are always kind, he added.
“It seems like every time we get something good in our neighborhood, something happens to take it away,” Harris said.
The city spent $10.7 million to subsidize the construction of the shopping center where the store is located. When Whole Foods announced the closing of the 832 W. 63rd St. location, in April, local activists said they felt betrayed, adding that the shuttering would limit access to fresh and healthy food in the neighborhood.
The company closed five other stores across the country “to position Whole Foods Market for long-term success” at the time, including a location near DePaul. It also opened a nearly 66,000-square-foot location in the Near North neighborhood that same week.
Several grocery options remain in the neighborhood. The remaining handful of grocery stores include locations for Aldi’s low-budget grocer close to smaller ones.Go Green Community Fresh Market” run by the nonprofit Inner-City Muslim Action Network. The nearby Aldi in Auburn Gresham closed abruptly in June.
It’s not yet clear what will replace Whole Foods. The sales agreement with the city calls for a full-service grocery store to operate in the Englewood Square development through the end of 2027.
The agreement requires new stores to be up and running within 18 months of Whole Foods’ departure. That would put the deadline for the new grocery store at May 2024.
Chanda Daniels, who shopped at the store Saturday night, is vegan like Harris. Whole Foods sells items that allow the diet. He has a car, so he can go to other locations, “but a lot of people don’t,” the 52-year-old said.
“This is a store that sells healthy food in a bad Black neighborhood,” she said. “They have to find a way to make it last.”
Daniels moved west to the suburb of Kaadilan, but the former resident of Englewood continues to sometimes shop for elderly family members in the neighborhood and still remembers when the store first opened.
“I’m happy, because I don’t have to go far,” he said, adding that elderly people living nearby now will probably find it harder to get quality groceries. “We really need a place like this in a neighborhood like this.”
Sekhema Williams also remembers opening the store. He started an organic juice business, so it was convenient to have fresh produce nearby.
He was born and raised in the neighborhood, but has since moved to Oak Lawn. Still, he stopped by to get two gallons of water, split bean soup and bread. Inside, the store that he used to be happy felt sad, said the 29-year-old.
“If you’re going to get healthy food, you’re probably going to have to travel. It’s definitely a great thing that we have,” Williams said.
His grandmother lives nearby but doesn’t drive much, so he will pick up things for her. His grandmother loved the juice, Williams added.
Derek Bassett, 70, remembers former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel pushing for stores to open in the community. Not surprised to see it close, he said as he carried his brown paper bag to his car.
“Unless you have the fabric of the community, certain things, it’s not going to work,” the Englewood resident said, adding that he thinks the neighborhood doesn’t have enough economic stability to support a generally expensive grocer.
Theresa Mac doesn’t get all her groceries at the store because of the high prices, but she stops by often for specifics.
“I’ve got brownies. The butcher and I are working to get enough ribs to be a meal that I can eat for a while,” said Mac, who bought water and juice at the store Saturday night.
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The store is close to home on the border of Englewood and Auburn Gresham, she said. Now, he has to drive farther to get quality groceries, he said.
“I can’t get in the car and drive down here,” said Mac.
She bought some small items, like bananas, from Aldi two blocks down the street, but the lower cost grocer will not fill the hole left as a high quality whole food leaf.
“It’s my understanding that they got subsidized to come here, big time. I feel like they’re supposed to stay here… They could have stayed open,” Mac said. “That’s the choice they made.”
Chicago Tribune reporter Talia Soglin contributed.