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An Open Letter from Whole Foods to Jamaica Plain / Carta Abierta de Whole Foods a Los Residentes de Jamaica Plain

The Texas-based organic foods retailer responds in writing to several community concerns. / La cadena de supermercados que reemplazará Hi-Lo Foods mandó una carta a la comunidad.

[Editor's note: This is a letter from Laura Derba, president of the North Atlantic Region for Whole Foods Market, which plans to open in the space formerly occupied by in Hyde Square.]

Dear Residents of Jamaica Plain,

 We are very pleased to be opening a Whole Foods Market on Centre Street. We have met with city officials and followed the media coverage so we understand that while many of you are excited that we’re coming to JP, there are also a number of concerns and questions. As the regional president of Whole Foods Market, I want to take this opportunity to have what will be the first of many communications that I hope will serve to clarify several issues and ease your concerns.

HERE’S WHAT HAPPENED:  When we learned that the aging ownership at Knapp Foods was closing Hi-Lo Foods and making the lease available, we jumped at the chance to be a part of such a diverse, neighborhood with a passion for great food. Prior to signing the lease, however, the news was leaked to the media, along with a lot of false information.  We were enormously disappointed that you were not informed in a more respectful and organized manner.  Ideally, we would have had the opportunity to communicate with city and neighborhood officials prior to our announcement, as is our standard policy. 

 Our design plans will begin when we gain access to the building in late March. While the interior requires extensive renovations, we have absolutely no plans to change the structure of the building or the exterior features that are so important to the community -– the mural, the awning and the clock – will all remain intact.

 HI-LO STAFF:  We understand and appreciate your concerns for the future of Hi-Lo’s staff. We have already hired several Hi-Lo employees in our stores, and we are working with the local unemployment office to make sure that the remaining employees know that Whole Foods Market is guaranteeing them priority interviews at any of our store locations and facilities. 

 NEW HIRING:  Once renovations are underway and we have an opening date set, we will be holding job screenings at the store location that will be open to the public, as is our standard practice. We plan to hire around 100 Team Members---approximately 70 percent of those positions will be full-time with benefits.

 PRODUCT OFFERINGS:  We believe that everyone has the right to have access to affordable, high quality, clean food free of artificial ingredients and additives. This includes carrying a wide variety of Latino products. As with all of our stores, we will carry products that cater to the diverse demands of the community. If shoppers express interest in a product and it meets our quality standards, we will carry it.

YOUR COMMUNITY MARKET:  Being a community partner is a responsibility we take very seriously. We are eager to show our support and commitment to the wonderful organizations that make up the fabric of the JP neighborhood. As a company we give 5 percent back to our local communities through non-profit organizations and community and education groups.

 When we solidify our plan for the store, we will host community meetings to answer all of your questions. Please know that our intentions are to be productive and positive members of the JP community and to provide you with high quality food and exceptional customer service at great value. We understand that we will only be able to prove our commitment to you with our actions.

Sincerely,

Laura Derba

President – North Atlantic Region

Whole Foods Market

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Estimados Residentes de Jamaica Plain,

Nos complace informar que próximamente abriremos una tienda de Whole Foods Market en Centre Street. Nos hemos reunido con los funcionarios de gobierno de la ciudad y hemos estado al pendiente de la cobertura informativa en los medios de comunicación, por lo que sabemos que aunque muchos de ustedes están emocionados por la próxima apertura de nuestra tienda en Jamaica Plain, también existen muchas dudas e inquietudes. Como presidenta regional de Whole Foods Market, quiero aprovechar esta oportunidad para enviarles lo que será el primero de muchos comunicados que espero sirvan para aclarar sus dudas e inquietudes.

ESTO ES LO QUE PASÓ: Cuando nos enteramos de que los propietarios de Knapp Foods pensaban cerrar Hi-Lo Foods y que el edificio quedaría desocupado, decidimos aprovechar la oportunidad de formar parte de un vecindario tan diverso y apasionado por la buena comida. Sin embargo, antes de firmar el contrato de arrendamiento, los medios de comunicación tuvieron conocimiento de la noticia y esto generó mucha información falsa. Nos sentimos enormemente decepcionados de que ustedes no hayan recibido esta información de una manera más respetuosa y organizada. Idealmente nos hubiera gustado tener la oportunidad de dialogar con los funcionarios de gobierno de la ciudad y los representantes de la comunidad antes de dar a conocer esta noticia, de acuerdo con nuestras políticas estándar.

Comenzaremos con nuestros planes de diseño tan pronto como tengamos acceso al edificio a finales de marzo. Aunque el interior del edificio requiere de una renovación extensa, no tenemos planes de cambiar la estructura del edificio ni las características exteriores que son tan importantes para la comunidad; el mural, el toldo y el reloj permanecerán intactos.

EMPLEADOS DE HI-LO: Comprendemos y apreciamos su preocupación por el futuro de los empleados de Hi-Lo. Ya hemos contratado a varios empleados de Hi-Lo en nuestras tiendas y estamos trabajando junto con la oficina de desempleo local para informar a los demás empleados que Whole Foods Market les garantiza una entrevista de trabajo prioritaria en cualquiera de nuestras tiendas e instalaciones.

NUEVAS CONTRATACIONES: Una vez que hayamos comenzado con las renovaciones y tengamos una fecha de apertura definida, llevaremos a cabo entrevistas de trabajo en la tienda que estará abierta al público, esto de acuerdo con nuestras prácticas estándar. Nuestra intención es contratar a cerca de 100 Miembros del Equipo y aproximadamente un 70% de estos puestos serán de tiempo completo y con beneficios.

OFERTA DE PRODUCTOS: Creemos que todas las personas tienen el derecho de disfrutar de alimentos económicos y de alta calidad, sin aditivos e ingredientes artificiales. Esto incluye una amplia variedad de productos latinos. Al igual que en el resto de nuestras tiendas, ofreceremos productos que satisfagan las diversas necesidades de la comunidad. Si nuestros clientes expresan su interés por algún producto específico y dicho producto cumple con nuestros estándares de calidad, lo ofreceremos en nuestras tiendas.

NUESTRO APOYO A LA COMUNIDAD: Nos tomamos muy en serio la responsabilidad de ser un buen socio comunitario. Deseamos demostrar nuestro apoyo y compromiso con las maravillosas organizaciones que conforman la estructura de la comunidad de Jamaica Plain. Nuestra compañía tiene la política de devolver un 5% a las comunidades locales a través de las organizaciones altruistas y los grupos educativos y comunitarios.

Cuando concretemos nuestros planes para la tienda, realizaremos reuniones comunitarias para responder a todas sus preguntas. Tenemos la intención de ser un miembro productivo y positivo de la comunidad de Jamaica Plain y queremos ofrecer a todos los residentes alimentos de alta calidad a un valor excepcional, además de un excelente servicio al cliente. Sabemos que únicamente podremos demostrarles nuestro compromiso a través de nuestras acciones.

Atentamente,

Laura Derba

Presidenta, Región del Norte del Atlántico

Whole Foods Market

Raphael February 15, 2011 at 12:59 PM
Nothing says "authentic Latino business of Jamaica Plain" like a company called "Knapp Foods." The president is Stephen Knapp of Natick. The treasurer: Michael Knapp of Natick. They clearly have deep ties to our community and culture!
John Douglass February 15, 2011 at 02:37 PM
Change is inevitable in our individual lives, as well as our community. I like to look at the opportunities change offers, HiLo had it's run and now it's time for something new.
kmac February 15, 2011 at 02:59 PM
I agree with James Morgan above - what about traffic impacts?
mark February 15, 2011 at 03:13 PM
Hi Eric and Cory, First Eric, I see no reference in our post that claims to hold the opinion of the entire community. When we refer to a resourceful neighborhood we were thinking of places like the JPNDC, Urban Edge, Hyde Square Task Force, City Life/Vida Urbana, Spontaneous Celebrations, etc. And to Cory thank you for your Market Basket theory as it is important that people know that Hi-Lo was a profitable business up until it closed. The owners chose to close shop and lease to Whole Foods as they are free to do. If you dislike free speech perhaps you should move to China where such activity is frowned upon. (Dang i feel so cheap with the tit for tat rhetoric, I would much prefer a geo political debate over a pint of Guiness at the Behan)
Dax February 15, 2011 at 03:17 PM
Thank you, Boz. That's something that's been eating at me from the start. When I moved into JP, I was excited because I had heard about the Hi-Lo and thought I could get stuff from back home. It was so dirty I never went back. I hope people don't think that's what grocery stores are like in the Caribbean - not on my island! Also, Hi-Lo was way more Latin and way less Caribbean, for everyone who's been conflating the two. The selection wasn't enough to make up for it. I would go to Somerville or Revere to get what I need. Stop & Shop in Jackson Square didn't have as good a selection, probably because Hi-Lo was right there - so they'll probably expand their offerings.
Lisa February 15, 2011 at 03:43 PM
I wish Harvest had moved into this space rather than choosing to open to a new location in Fenway. Whole Foods is known for union busting and greenwashing, and for being far too expensive for this middle class latina to shop at regularly, among a host of other sins. Maybe they'll make an attempt to cater to JP's diverse population. I doubt said population will be able to afford it. And it really doesn't change the fact that a powerful corporation has moved to a neighborhood that's historically done very well keeping those beasts out. I know that seeing yet another empty storefront is in nobody's best interests, but is WF seriously the best we can do? Disappointing to say the least.
Eric February 15, 2011 at 03:45 PM
"Yes, Knapp Foods was getting out of the business. Given notice this very resourceful neighborhood could have found a replacement that catered to the needs of Hi-Lo patrons. " This statement presupposes that the "neighborhood" wants to influence the use of private property towards "a replacement that catered to the needs of Hi-Lo patrons". Apparently, you want to define this "very resourceful neighborhood" as a laundry list of local non-profit organizations stretching across Jamaica Plain (with widely different missions and focuses) which is the strangest and most limited definition of a "neighborhood" I have heard in a while. I've always thought that I lived in JP and not JPNDC but I guess if you're willing to give them that sort of power over private property, maybe I'm mistaken.
mark February 15, 2011 at 05:53 PM
Hello again Eric, I am flattered by your detailed critique of my post. I am interested to know how you feel about the Hi-Lo closings affect on the part of our community that worked and shopped there.
Eric February 15, 2011 at 06:56 PM
As someone who has been unemployed in the past, I feel very empathetic towards anyone who loses a job. Knapp should follow through on any obligations towards their former employees. For any Hi-Lo employee who is interested in working at WF, I hope that they are hired. For those who want to work elsewhere, I hope that they can find suitable employment soon. As for those who feel they have lost a cultural institution, Hi-Lo is a unique entity that will sadly probably never be replaced. Other Latin supermarkets may open up in JP, but they will not be Hi-Lo because it will be a different staff in a different space with a different business structure. The band is not getting back together and for that, many grieve. For those who feel that they have lost a place to buy low-cost food and/or Latin speciality grocery items, the future is uncertain. As has been noted, but certainly not determined definitively due to sample discrimination, there are some foods that will be more expensive at other local groceries and some that will be comparable or cheaper. For certain, some items sold at Hi-Lo will not be available at other local stores. Time will tell what those items are. This may be an opportunity for existing or new businesses to step in to fill a void at another space in JP. As for ensuring economic and ethnic diversity and affordable housing in JP, these challenges existed before Hi-Lo closed and will remain after WF opens. Beware of false choices suggesting otherwise.
gretchen van ness February 15, 2011 at 07:40 PM
Lisa, of course WF isn't the "best" that we can do. There's lots more that can be done and WF opening in JP doesn't somehow make it impossible to do that work. Just like "hippies" got together and established food co-ops in the '60s and '70s so that fresh, local, organic food was available in their communities (giving rise to countless companies, including Whole Foods), the Latino residents of JP and our neighboring communities can get together and form buying clubs and co-ops to bring affordable traditional foods here. Just as JP is pressuring WF to serve our entire diverse community, so should we be pressuring Stop & Shop to clean up its JP store and do better. Hi Lo wasn't all things to all people and WF won't be, either. Stopping WF won't bring Hi Lo back. But given the support we've seen for Hi Lo since the closing was announced, working to bring an affordable, quality Latino market or co-op to JP seems like a pretty good idea and much more useful thing to be doing. And did I miss something -- was there a union at Hi Lo?
Ira Sass February 16, 2011 at 03:12 AM
The change in population has made the neighborhood safer to live in?? Safer for whom? That's a pretty big assumption...what I hear you saying is that people of color and low-income people are the cause of violence and crime.
Bruce Ehrlich February 16, 2011 at 04:49 AM
Gretchen has got the right idea. A good example of a community coming together to help create a market is The Village Market in Roslindale Square. It took a few years of organizing, fundraising, and political mobilization, but the community was instrumental in creating that market. For those who want a community-oriented Latino market in JP, now is the time to organize. It will take some time -- all good things do. Until then, Whole Foods will hopefully provide good employment opportunities to the laid off Hi-Lo workers. Also, as a frequent shopper at the Brighton WF, I can report that the store offers many affordable healthy food options and has a workforce as diverse as they come: old, young, white, black, Latino, Asian, African, pierced, un-pierced, immigrants from all continents (except Antarctica), etc. Is this something we progressives and radicals in JP are really against? I appreciate the richness of a fight against an upscale national food chain. But the battle against gentrification will not be won or lost at Whole Foods. There's more fruitful work to be done elsewhere in JP helping to address housing, youth, and employment opportunities.
George February 16, 2011 at 02:57 PM
Dear Residents of Jamaica Plain: Whoops. A lot of you are really angry and making us look bad. It’s time that we share our spin – the first of many times we’ll have to do it. HERE'S WHAT HAPPENED: We are really, really disappointed in the worker who leaked the news in order to expose our backroom deal. That was very disrespectful to you. We won’t admit that it was the backroom deal that was disrespectful to workers and to the community. Ideally, we would have been able to spin the news our way. It is not our policy to talk with the community as a whole about moving in and to get feedback. We talk with select leaders and then announce our plans to the wider community without being open to changing our plans. We don’t plan to change the building. After all, what we’re changing is the fabric of Jamaica Plain by greatly accelerating the gentrification here. We will pretend that the mural, awning, and clock are more important to the community than the larger issue of gentrification. HI-LO STAFF: We hired an outspoken employee to blunt criticism. We can only guarantee “interviews” to others because we don’t trust their years of experience in the community. After all, it’s an issue of following a standard hiring process. Except that we’ll bypass that process to hire a few employees right away for PR purposes. (continued in next post...)
George February 16, 2011 at 02:57 PM
(continued from last post...) NEW HIRING: Renovations will be underway. We will have an opening date set. In case you don’t get the message: We’re coming and you can’t stop us. We’ll add jobs to the neighborhood. Never mind that by helping make JP more unaffordable, even people who have jobs won’t be able to live or shop here. Never mind that another business could thrive in Jamaica Plain and add jobs to the neighborhood as well. PRODUCT OFFERINGS: If people decide not to come to our generally expensive store for the various Latino products we offer, it’s not our fault when we discontinue them after a short period of keeping them stocked for PR purposes. In the mean time, the overall higher price point of our overall product offerings will accelerate the increases in food and home prices in JP. YOUR COMMUNITY MARKET: We’ll give back to organized groups in order to hide the larger damage we do to the community, and buy groups’ silence. Never mind that 5% is little compared to the greater threat of gentrification and rising unaffordability in the neighborhood. We understand that we will only be able to prove our commitment to you with our actions. So far, our actions demonstrate our true intentions: we signed a lease without community input in order to make it seem we're unstoppable (which we're not), and we completely ignore the issue of gentrification at the heart of why we would be bad for JP. Sincerely, Whole Foods
Boz February 16, 2011 at 03:13 PM
Man, I am feeling pretty out of the loop here. I missed the community meetings where JP Comics and Games, Ula Cafe, Polka Dog, JP Art Market, Goodwill, City Feed, Kitchenwitch, and all the other businesses that have opened or changed locations in the last several years prostrated themselves before the community and begged to be allowed to do business! Can somebody send me a link to these meetings? Because I want to be one of the Guardians of the Neighborhood! It seems like a great way to work up a good righteous indignation buzz, and God knows I'll take whatever kind of cheap buzz I can get. When's the meeting about what we're going to allow to replace Great Wall? If it's not cheap but also locally and fairly sourced and offering a variety of cuisines that represents the diversity of Jamaica Plain as well as owned and operated by a disabled lesbian of color, you'll see me on the picket lines!
Raphael February 16, 2011 at 03:33 PM
I think we should create a committee to safeguard our Centre Street from unwanted corporate intruders. It can be run by a board of directors selected from local businesses on the thoroughfare. I nominate CVS, Dunkin Donuts, Bank of America, Citizens Bank, Verizon Wireless, Ace Hardware, and Tedeschi.
jpinvestor February 17, 2011 at 12:23 AM
It's hard not to fall over laughing at the absurdity of this anti-Whole Foods crowd. This isn't about a grocery store and we all know it. This is about the last desperate gasps of a bunch of far-left activists who see the end of their era and are hysterical. Whole Foods is more than a canary in the coal mine - it is the nail in the coffin for the fringe in JP who refuse to embrace change and want only to stay the course on decades of failed social experiments that taxpayers have been paying for. They hate the fact that lots of us want WF because it is a symbol of capitalism. They are terrified that the majority of JP is rejecting their anti-corporate rhetoric that is based on nothing but tired slogans from the 1960's. They are desperate to portray themselves as the conscience of a community for which they can no longer speak because they are the extremist fringe. Newcomers and people who support gentrification and improved property values are now the not-so-silent majority -- and JPNDC / Vida Urbana and the rest are furious because they no longer control the discussion. That's what this is about.
jpinvestor February 17, 2011 at 12:26 AM
Hahaha! Hilarious, Boz. You nailed it right on the head.
mark February 17, 2011 at 03:05 AM
peace, love, justice, equality, ecology.......guilty as charged. what slogans do you live by?
Jenny February 17, 2011 at 03:35 AM
Its hard not to be shocked by the callousness of someone who by his handle identifies himself as being chiefly concerned with the increase of his property values. And by the way that "extremest fringe" are the very same people who have been working tirelessly for decades to make the neighborhood as desirable as it.
jpinvestor February 17, 2011 at 04:31 AM
Personal responsibility, hard work, self reliance, accountability, discipline, no whining As for this idea that the far left has been "working tirelessly for decades to make this neighborhood as desirable as it is..." I disagree. You have been working for decades to make this neighborhood what you want it to be. Now there are many more of us who want something better.
George February 17, 2011 at 04:34 AM
The not-so-silent majority in Jamaica Plain make less than $70,000 household income, while a household would need to make about $95,000 to purchase a condominium in JP or $155,000 to purchase a single-family home. The not-so-silent majority saw income rise slightly over the past decade while rents nearly doubled and home/condominium prices more than doubled. The not-so-silent majority is getting priced out of Jamaica Plain. As a previous post says, Whole Foods coming in is more than just about a store. It's about putting the brakes on out-of-control gentrification, because Whole Foods will accelerate it. People of all races, poor and middle-class, see how gentrification is hurting the fabric of the neighborhood and people's ability to live here -- and that's why we're speaking up. Whole Foods can thrive in other neighborhoods, but we don't need Whole Foods and out-of-control gentrification in Jamaica Plain. (Sources: American Community Survey 2005-2009; US Census 2000; The Warren Group; National Housing Conference and Center for Housing Policy)
jpinvestor February 17, 2011 at 04:48 AM
George, are you seriously saying that "other neighborhoods" can see the benefits of rising property values and living standards, but not JP? Seriously? Why do you think people make investments in real estate? So we can all feel good about ourselves and our patchwork of diversity while our homes and businesses decline in value or are falsely suppressed? What do you think pays for all the affordable housing programs? Taxes generated from increasing real estate values! I for one am not interested in watching Whole Foods thrive in another neighborhood. I'd like my neighborhood to thrive, thank you very much.
Eric February 17, 2011 at 06:08 AM
George, does the opening of Whole Foods stop future construction and establishment of affordable housing in Jamaica Plain? Does it stop future efforts at job creation for local residents? Does it stop efforts at strengthening social services for at-risk teens or families? Does, in fact, the opening of a new supermarket stop anything which would actually provide long-term guarantees for economic diversity in JP? What so many people seem to want to ignore here is the possibility that people don't necessarily object to your goals of establishing economic diversity in JP, but they disagree with your tactics and how manageable, practical, effective and most importantly legal they would be. What you are suggesting is just bad policy and bad tactics.
gretchen van ness February 17, 2011 at 01:54 PM
I hope everyone reading here knows that "jpinvestor" does not speak for everyone who supports WF coming to JP. I could not disagree with him more, having lived in this community for over 20 years and met many of the good people who helped make it the community it is. Many of us reject the idea that life is a zero-sum gain and that some people can only have enough if others have too little.
Boz February 17, 2011 at 02:05 PM
I agree with Gretchen. JP's activist tradition is the reason we have the Orange Line and Southwest Corridor Park rather than I-93 in that spot. In short, it's the reason JP exists as a neighborhood at all. I value the diversity, the progressive atmosphere, and the artistic presence in JP. jpinvestor is just as guilty of making Whole Foods into a symbol of something it's not as the opponents are. Whole Foods is not the death of Jamaica Plain. Nor is it the death of progressivism. It's a freaking grocery store, people. Everybody needs to get a grip.
Raphael February 17, 2011 at 05:57 PM
Speaking as a Whole Foods-coming-to-JP supporter, I don't think jpinvestor's left vs. right, capitalist vs. communist theory is even close to accurate. The fact is, Whole Foods is seeing support because it will address a real need in the neighborhood in ways that Knapp Foods never did -- otherwise, Knapp would've been profitable and would've stayed. Whole Foods in many ways represents the mainstreaming and the triumph of 60s values and pressure on "the man". The company offers terrific benefits, sells socially and environmentally responsible foods and products, and yet still thrives as a for-profit chain. Talk about the best of both worlds. And again, it seems to me that Whole Foods is coming because JP has been gentrified, not as a catalyst to gentrification. They don't locate stores hoping a neighborhood will be attractive to their bottom line 5 years from now. They want immediate profitability. Lastly, let me just say that for all those folks who (bravely?) invested in homes in JP 20-30-40 years ago, aren't they entitled to a nice payoff in the form of higher property values now that they've made a beautiful neighborhood all the nicer and more desirable? Artificially tamping down property values by closing the door on Whole Foods ignores the substantial mega-corporate presence already on Centre Street and offends the legacy of everyone who worked hard to make the neighborhood great -- yes, with 60s-era values.
Eric February 18, 2011 at 04:08 PM
JPNC will be having another Whole Foods community meeting at the Kennedy School, 7 Bolster Street, February 28th at 7pm. I was out of town for the last meeting, but I'll be there to discuss how I support effectively ensuring affordable housing and economic and social diversity in JP and how I also shop at Whole Foods. I hope Felix Arroyo is there again. As opposed to Matt O'Malley or Jeffrey Sanchez, he doesn't seem to want to take the time to respond to my emails. Perhaps he's confused about whether or not I am one of his constituents? I know he's busy, so I somewhat get it. It's kind of hard to be both a city councilor and a real estate agent for America's Food Basket and Brothers Supermarket.
Dougie M February 19, 2011 at 02:51 AM
Beneath all of the emotions it seems like everyone really wants the same thing: a grocery store that provides healthy and affordable food that all JP cultures feel comfortable shopping at. Can we move on from the us vs them and come together to figure out a solution that works for everyone (it is clear that not everyone is in agreement about WF)? I'm sure there are local/regional grocery stores out there who would jump at the opportunity to move into the Hi-Lo space (the store was not publicly for sale) that would provide organic and healthy products as well as similar products that Hi-Lo carried.
Scotch March 08, 2011 at 02:18 PM
....installing yet another mistimed traffic light to further jam Centre I'm sure will be the "solution" . So many love the city because you can do everything on foot or with public transportation. Then we all get in our cars and drive anyways.....

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