Friday, September 6, 2013

Looking for a neighborhood market? Or is this just a political deal w/ payback?

By now, I’m sure anybody who cares has heard the “story” – the Whole Foods chain of supermarkets geared toward upscale items is planning to build a new store in the Englewood neighborhood (63rd and Halsted streets, to be exact).

Will we soon see fliers like this on South Side?
Yes, the same Englewood that is one of the city’s lower-income neighborhoods – and often is the focal point of much of the urban violence that ideological idiots would have you think is taking place across all of Chicago.

THE PEOPLE WHO like the idea see the fact that people who live in that area have to go to some extremes in order to shop for groceries because of the fact that there really isn’t a full-scale supermarket in the area.

Those who hate the idea of Whole Foods say they don’t see the practicality of putting a food retailer whose image is centered around getting the business of upscale customers who want “elite” (allegedly) versions of products in a neighborhood where there would be higher percentages than usual of people relying on LINK cards.

Which, by the way, Whole Foods officials made a point of saying this week that they DO accept.

Personally, I find the latter attitude to be just a bit snotty – almost as though they’re saying certain people aren’t worthy of having a Whole Foods near them. These are the ones who’d rather have the Food4Less chain (an offshoot of the Kroger Co.), because it better fits their image of what Englewood “deserves.”

NONETHELESS, I’M SKEPTICAL over whether Whole Foods will gain much in the way of customer support when the store is finally built (right by the Kennedy-King College campus).

I actually live within a 10-minute drive of a Whole Foods store. Personally, it strikes me as the place where I might go occasionally to pick up a few specialty items if I’m planning to make a special dish or two.

They also do have some vegetable items in their produce section that aren’t readily stocked in the Jewel Foods store that is located one block from where I live.

But I can’t help but think that anybody who does all of their grocery shopping at a Whole Foods is someone so pretentious about themselves and wanting to buy into the store’s upscale image. They definitely have too much money to waste.

PERSONALLY, I WONDER what Whole Foods is getting out of the deal?

Although I couldn’t help but notice the Chicago Sun-Times story Thursday about the $10 million subsidy city government will provide Whole Foods to help prepare the site for store construction.

Municipal governments routinely offer up such deals to businesses of any size that want to locate within their boundaries. In and of itself, the subsidy isn’t unusual.

But it makes me wonder if the developers who are bringing Whole Foods to the Englewood neighborhood are counting on some sort of political good-will from city officials.

BRING THIS STORE to one of the city’s “food deserts” and help make it look as though the Emanuel Administration is doing something to benefit the inner-city to make it easier for its residents to shop for groceries (believe it or not, they eat too).

In return, it would seem that those developers can now call in a favor or two – perhaps some easier approval for a future project that they will want to build somewhere within Chicago.

So what do I really think about the concept of Whole Foods coming to Englewood? It would be nice if the store can help residents of that South Side neighborhood get access to better food. Maybe it could even help bolster the surrounding neighborhood.

But the political cynic in me can’t help but wonder about that payback. What future project will get greased through the system because of the Whole Foods willingness? And how much of a stinker will that future deal be?


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think you pretty much sum up my opinion on this issue -- everything from some wariness of people who think Englewood deserves a Save-a-lot rather than a Whole Food, to the question of exactly how does this work.

The one thing I would add -- and I really hope that someone can get an answer -- is this: with $10mln of TIF money going to the project (more than just the Whole Foods), and the developer saying that the store will cost $3.5mln to build, did the Mayor just give a free store to Whole Food?

And with such a huge gift (and the resulting lower costs), is the business model for the Englewood Whole Food actually just a corporate welfare model? I mean, you get the store for free (or substantially below market), and then you apply for the various tax credits available for a business in a blighted area. It almost doesn't matter if the store makes an actual profit or not; the store is designed to produce tax credits and other government subsidies to that help the Whole chain (see the pun I did there?) have a healthier bottom line.

If that's the model, the next question is: is this the most efficient way to use government dollars to address food deserts? Or this is just another example of a corporate giveaway dressed up as a policy accomplishment?