The Whole Foods that opened in Englewood six years ago to live music, TV-ready politicians and outdoor lines will close Sunday with little fanfare.
The grocery store was once a point of optimism and pride in one of Chicago’s most economically distressed South Side neighborhoods. But by Saturday, Whole Foods’ hot bar had cooled. The freezer aisle was empty, save for a few fancy pints of avocado “frozen dessert” and low-calorie ice cream.
Items still available in the store are marked down by 60 percent. Some shoppers took advantage of the deep discounts, pushing what looked like mountains of carts and piled on top of the rest. Others mourned the store’s closing.
Barbara Harris, who eats a vegan diet, goes to Whole Foods almost every day for nuts and fresh fruit, she said. But by the time he arrived on Saturday, most of his regular items had sold out. I wish it would go sooner.
“This is a great place for us. And now he’s leaving, I’m just disappointed,” said the 61-year-old Englewood resident.
In the future, Harris will have to shop at the more expensive and further away Hyde Park store. The people working at the grocery store he designed were always friendly, he added.
“It seems like every time we get something good in our neighborhood, there’s something 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. Whole Foods opened at 832 W. 63rd St. in April. announced the closing of its location, local activists said they felt betrayed, adding that the closure would limit access to fresh and healthy food in the neighborhood.
The company closed five more stores nationwide at the time, including one near DePaul, “to position Whole Foods Market for long-term success.” It opened an almost 66,000-square-foot location in the Near North neighborhood the same week.
There are few food options left in the neighborhood. A handful of remaining grocery stores include a location nearby for low-budget grocer Aldi and a smaller Go Green Community Fresh Market run by the nonprofit Inner-City Muslim Action Network. Another nearby Aldi in Auburn Gresham closed abruptly in June.
It is 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 by the end of 2027.
The deal calls for the new store to open within 18 months of the Whole Foods divestiture. That puts a May 2024 deadline for a new grocery store.
Saturday night shopper Chanda Daniels is vegan, as is Harris. Whole Foods sold the ingredients to support his diet. He has a car, so he can go places, but “a lot of people don’t,” the 52-year-old said.
“It’s a health food store in a poor Black neighborhood,” he said. “They had to find a way to keep it.”
Daniels moved west to the Courthouse neighborhood, but the former Englewood resident continues to occasionally shop for elderly family members in the neighborhood and still remembers when the store first opened.
“I was happy because I didn’t have to go far,” he said, adding that older people nearby would have a harder time getting quality food. “We really need places like this in these kinds of neighborhoods.”
Sekhema Williams also recalled the opening of the store. He was starting 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 to pick up two gallons of water, a piece of pea soup, and a loaf of bread. Inside, the 29-year-old woman said, the store she was once excited about felt kind of sad.
“If you want to get healthy food, you might just have to travel. It was definitely a great thing we had,” Williams said.
Her grandmother lives nearby but doesn’t drive much, so she would buy things for him. Williams added that her grandmother liked the juice.
Derek Bassett, 70, recalled former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel demanding the store open in the community. He wasn’t surprised to see her up close, he said as he carried the brown paper bags to his car.
“The way the community is structured, unless certain things are in place, it’s not going to work,” said the Englewood resident, adding that the neighborhood generally doesn’t have enough economic stability to support an expensive grocery store.
Teresa Mack couldn’t buy all her groceries at the grocery store because the prices were high, but she stopped in often to get specifics.
“I bought brown. Me and the butcher were trying to get enough short ribs for dinner that I could eat for a while,” said Mac, who bought a sparkling 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, he said. Now he will have to travel farther to buy quality food, he said.
“I can’t get in the car and run here,” Mac said.
He buys small items like bananas from Aldi two blocks down the street, but the low-cost grocery won’t fill the hole left by the high-quality Whole Foods leaves.
“My understanding is that they received a subsidy to come here in the first place. I feel like they should have stayed here… They could have kept it open,” Mac said. “It’s a choice they made.”
Chicago Tribune reporter Talia Soglin contributed.