Licensing Board Weighs Allowing Whole Foods to Add Seating
A decision is expected Thursday from the Licensing Board, which heard from Whole Foods and both supporters as well as detractors of their plan to add 38 seats to their Hyde Square store.
UPDATE, 4:35 Thursday: The city has granted Whole Foods' license to add seating. Here's an updated post.
The city's Licensing Board heard evidence for and against Whole Foods' bid to add seating to their Hyde Square grocery store. In a very positive sign for those backing Whole Foods' plans, the city's Office of Neighborhood services came out in favor of the move.
Representatives of Whole Foods Market JP told the Licensing Board that customers are clamoring for seating where they can eat prepared foods bought at the store.
Scott laid out what Whole Foods has done to reach out to the community, presenting a petition with more than 1,000 signatures from customers. Other support Scott mentioned included a letter of support from Hyde/Jackson Square Main Streets, a business group [A copy is attached to this post].
Opponents of the seating countered with a list of 14 owners at primarily Latino Hyde Square businesses who signed a petition opposing Whole Foods' proposal.
The petition says that Whole Foods' plan is "likely to threaten the livelihood of surrounding eateries, such as mine." Martha Rodriguez, a consistent critic of the grocer's move into JP, presented the petition.
"They're simply saying 'Let's preserve the flavor of Hyde/Jackson Square,'" she told the Licensing Board.
Another Whole Foods opponent, Helen Matthews, said many items the grocer sells — like baked goods, coffee and hot-bar items — are similar to offerings at nearby local restaurants. She said the trends in Hyde Square feel like "economic and cultural displacement."
Scott, Whole Foods' attorney, told the license board about the grocer's meeting with a committee of the JP Neighborhood Council. That committee split 4-4 on making any recommendation for or against. Scott did not mention at the Monday hearing at City Hall that the entire JP Neighborhood Council had at first voted to oppose the seating before withdrawing that vote.
Whole Foods' lawyer responded to concerns voiced by El Oriental de Cuba owner Nobel Garcia about Whole Foods employees taking on-street spots in front of his nearby restaurant. Scott said it's been emphasized with employees not to park on the street because they have leased parking at the nearby MSPCA.
Scott also responded to the idea that Whole Foods would offer competition to locally owned restaurants nearby.
"We don't think we'll be competing," he said, noting that the store has put up a board displaying where local restaurants are and highlighting their menus.
Whole Foods' hopes to add 22 indoor seats and 16 outdoor seats.
Gretchen Van Ness of Hyde/Jackson Main Streets spoke in favor of Whole Foods' plans.
"We believe this is going to help local restaurants," said Van Ness, who can see the grocery store from her home. She said that she hasn't noticed any traffic or parking problems since the store opened at the end of October.
Other support for Whole Foods came from the Mayor's Office of Neighborhood Services — when Mayor Thomas Menino signals support for a project, it usually happens. City Councilor Matt O'Malley's representative also voiced official support for the seating.
While comments from the board don't necessarily indicate how it will vote, Chairperson Nicole Murati Ferrer did press one Whole Foods opponent. Matthews told the board the grocer had never answered her question about how much an increase in business it expects to gain from adding seating.
Ferrer said that because the Whole Foods JP store is so different in size and location than most of the grocer's locations, it would be "patently unfair" to use statistics from, for example, the chain's bustling Symphony location, which services crowds of lunch-goers from nearby office buildings and medical facilities.
One Whole Foods opponent cast doubt on the more than $100,000 the grocer has given or plans to give to local charities.
"It's my impression they have not been neighborly," said Jen Douglas of Mozart Street. "We're just people trying to work out the consequences of inequality."
Scott, Whole Foods' attorney, said the company's giving is organic in that local charities put themselves forward for the funds.
"Donations are not hand-picked by us," Scott said. "They're given to whomever asks."
The Licensing Board generally votes on requests on Thursdays, so check back with JP Patch Thursday afternoon for news of the final decision.