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Committee Deadlocks on Whole Foods' Bid to Add Seating to Jamaica Plain Store

A committee of the JP Neighborhood Council split evenly on the question after hearing from local restaurant owners concerned about the competition from Whole Foods' plans to add 38 seats.

Some local restauranteurs say ' plans to add 38 seats for dining would threaten their businesses.

Listening to these and other concerns, a committee of the deadlocked 4-4 on whether to recommend approval of the license Whole Foods needs to follow through with their plan.

"I think Whole Foods should be a grocery store and I should be a restaurant," said Nobel Garcia, owner of and a longtime JP resident.

Whole Foods brought its plans to add 22 seats inside and 16 seats outside to a Tuesday night meeting of the Public Service Committee at the Cheverus Building in Hyde Square. More than 50 people attended.

The owners of expressed similar concerns to those of Garcia, that the Whole Foods seating would sap customers from their and other local restaurants.

Committee member Jeffrey Wiesner made the argument that instead of hurting local restaurants, Whole Foods could contribute to a "critical mass" of eating destinations in Hyde Square. People coming to Whole Foods, he said, could discover local restaurants nearby.

Whole Foods' representatives said there has been a groundswell of requests for seating. They said that, prompted by customer requests, they posted a petition in the store about adding seating, and that 1,000 people signed it in three and a half days.

Several audience members expressed doubt that the grocer didn't plan to add the seating all along, however. The store was able to open with a minimum of city red tape, given that it was replacing an existing grocery store. Had it sought permission to have seating before it opened, that would have triggered a public process.

Asked what future plans the store might have, Whole Foods manager, Michael Walker said, "I have no desire to come before this board."

There would be no table service for the seating and the outdoor tables would not remove any parking spaces, Walker said.

In making their pitch to the committee, Whole Foods listed their extensive charity efforts. A list in a packet given to committee members totaled $109,171 worth of donations and sponsorships the store has already given or has promised.

These efforts didn't impress resident Jen Douglas of Mozart Street.

"We don't owe you anything for your philanthropy," she said.

The meeting offered an interesting contrast, as the committee unanimously recommended a license be given to Caffe Aromi, a 45-seat coffee shop to be opened soon at 403A Centre, next door to Whole Foods.

Caffe Aromi said its investors are all local people and that the potential employees it is interviewing are all JP residents. Whole Foods, as several residents pointed out in their comments, is a large corporation.

"I don't see what the difference is," said Whole Foods attorney Mike Scott. Some in the crowd shouted "We do!" in response.

The entire Neighborhood Council could take up the Whole Foods matter at their The council is an elected, volunteer advisory board. City boards like the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals take its recommendations into account, but are not bound by them.

Whole Foods has not made an official request for the seating with the city's Inspectional Services Department. The Neighborhood Council had asked the grocer to go through the local process first.

Jack April 05, 2012 at 01:05 PM
I want to make sure I understand what Whole Foods is asking for. They already sell prepared foods now; you can go in today and get a full meal. The only thing you can't do now is sit down after you buy that meal. So, I could stop in, buy a plate of food, and eat it standing up, either by the cash registers or under the awning and Whole Foods is legally in the clear. But to allow me a chair and a table, Whole Foods needs a license? Is this *really* a stand up vs. sit down debate? If so, I am most definitely in the "sit down" camp.
gretchen van ness April 05, 2012 at 01:40 PM
Yes, Jack, you are exactly right. Providing seating is what triggers the need for the CV license. There's no table service and no change in what Whole Foods sells. You can sit down to enjoy a banana or a mango, too.
Sarah Lydon April 05, 2012 at 01:55 PM
Exactly. There's not a serious comparison between sitting down with your lunchtime salad-bar selections and saying "hey--let's head down to El Oriental." All of the other Whole Foods have some place to sit and drink your coffee or have a snack--it's not a destination but it would be a pleasant addition. I've put notes in the suggestion box asking for seating (and for a better bike rack--the current one sucks). Kind of hilarious though to see the same old faces jumping at any opportunity to wrassle with Whole Foods. I'm really sorry that it hasn't been the unmitigated neighborhood-transforming disaster that you guys were hoping for.
Sarah Lydon April 05, 2012 at 02:00 PM
Strangely enough, many of us who manage busy lives--job, kids, volunteering, etc.--can actually juggle two activities like getting through a checkout line and signing a petition with full cognizance. To suggest otherwise is a little condescending, no?
patty April 05, 2012 at 02:01 PM
I cannot understand what the opposition is about as patrons would be purchasing food that is already available and sitting down to eat it on the premises instead of elsewhere. I see nothing that states that additional food items will be made available than what is already onsite. A 45-seat coffee shop is approved but a site already selling prepared food is not? I doubt having tables available for patrons will take away business from any of the other vendors in the area but is merely a courtesy to those who wish to eat the food they have purchased onsite rather than standing up to eat or going elsewhere. Logic does not seem readily available at this time.
Chris Child April 05, 2012 at 02:28 PM
Like Terrell, I was never asked for a signature at checkout, although I suppose they could have missed me if it was just for a few days, and I never noticed the petition in the store. But I never would sign a petition blindly just because I am in a checkout line.
gretchen van ness April 05, 2012 at 02:51 PM
In case folks missed the information provided in comments on an earlier article, you can let the JPNC know your views on Whole Foods' application by emailing Michael Reiskind, the Public Services Committee Chair at psc.jpnc@gmail.com. JP For All is collecting letters of support -- contact Rick at rstockwood@jpforall.org. As always, you can also let your city councilor know: phone, mail, and email addresses can be found at http://www.cityofboston.gov/citycouncil/. Right now, there is no date for when the Boston Licensing Board will hear the application, but I'm Chris and the Patch will let us know when there is.
Scott April 05, 2012 at 03:32 PM
I got the notices they distributed at the house I own, within a two block radius.
Scott April 05, 2012 at 03:35 PM
I sat on some wooden pallets outside WF last week and ate a snickers while my wife shopped. All without a permit!
Scott April 05, 2012 at 03:37 PM
If I want mislabeled fish, I'll go to Oriental. If I want a horrible shopping experience, I'll go to WF.
Scott April 05, 2012 at 03:39 PM
Misery loves company.
Reed Miller April 05, 2012 at 05:02 PM
Hey folks, I'll try to keep this pleasant despite my continued displeasure at the personal attacks used in these comment sections. Again, please stop. @Chris Helms, Nice to see you as well! If you do get a spare moment, could you please confirm / dispute the claim that Whole Foods fliered all local businesses within the 2 block radius by contacting them? You're the only neutral party here that everyone would trust. @Gretchen: I would argue that folks who signed the posted petition, filed the requests, and clicked on this poll took time to think through their support. My argument, again, is that the folks who were asked to sign at the register likely did not think through the consequences of their signature. @Bob: I'm not interested in responding to you, do to your insulting tone.
Reed Miller April 05, 2012 at 05:06 PM
Hi folks-- @Chris Helms, Nice to see you as well! If you get a spare moment, could you please call around to the local businesses and ask directly if they received notice about the this meeting (from Whole Foods itself, not Whose Foods)? As the only neutral party posting, I think your report would be definitive. @Gretchen: No sense in claiming that folks who wrote out requests, clicked on this poll, and signed the posted petition didn't think through their action. My only argument there remains that in the busyness of the checkout, I think that few people who signed petitions there thoroughly thought through the consequences of their support. @Bob: I no longer respond to comments laden with insults. Thanks, ~Reed
Terrell Gibbs April 05, 2012 at 05:27 PM
I'm frankly skeptical of the claim that anybody was asked to sign a petition while checking out. Can anybody confirm that they personally were shown a petition at the register and asked to sign it there? WF seems pretty efficiently run, and delaying customers waiting in line seems like bad business, when customers could just as easily and far more efficiently have been directed to a posted petition. And even if it is true, why should it matter? Clearly WF could have gotten far more signatures, as we have heard from a number of people who would have been happy to sign such a petition, but never had the opportunity. I understand that some people are ideologically opposed to WF, but they presumably already know who they are and how they feel. Others are going to respond as customers to the simple question, "Would you like a place to sit down?" Why should I as a customer care about whether seats at WF might drive out of business some local eatery that is so lousy that it can't compete with a grocery store with no table service, and where diners have to sit behind busy checkout stations or at the edge of a parking lot? I don't personally know of any JP restaurant that bad (but it seems that there are some that think that the shoe fits)--but a restaurant that bad is not a place where I'd ever be likely to eat, anyway.
Chris April 05, 2012 at 05:28 PM
Reed writes: "Whole Foods did not give notice to businesses and residences within a 2 block radius about the meeting." Chris Helms replies: "Theresa Bruce said at the meeting that she saw Whole Foods flyers just about everywhere she went as she did her own flyering for Caffe Aromi." Reed replies: "Could you please call around to the local businesses and ask directly if they received notice about the this meeting?" Oh to be a journalist in an age of comment boards…
Bob from JP April 05, 2012 at 05:29 PM
Way to take the easy way out Reed. I expected nothing less. Thanks!
Chris Helms (Editor) April 05, 2012 at 05:44 PM
Hi Reed, I think the best I can do on this one is state again what I heard at the meeting: that Theresa Bruce saw lots of Whole Foods flyers in doing her own flyering. So it sounds like a good bit of Whole Foods flyering was done, though perhaps they did not reach every place the volunteers you reference did, since those volunteers report places being missed.
Jen April 05, 2012 at 06:22 PM
chris, i would spell it out in these terms: - neighborhood councils like the jpnc, as i understand, were created for the express purpose of facilitating resident participation in local affairs. among their precedents are various kinds of neighborhood reform groups from the late 19th/early 20th century in the u.s., but their contemporary form stems largely from 1960s-era responses to the absence of mechanisms through which people could influence urban renewal programs (federally-funded "slum clearance" programs from late 1940s-1960sish, through which cities razed and re-built residential neighborhoods for a different class of people, such as what happened in boston to parts of the south end and west end and more). - similarly, the mayor and city councilors come into office to fulfill particular institutional roles within municipal governance. - any of these roles is vulnerable to the problems of weak voter participation, poorly fulfilling duties, etc. rich, in all seriousness, i really would be interested to hear who at city hall is relevant to contact on this issue.
Jen April 05, 2012 at 06:25 PM
rich, in all seriousness, i really would be interested to hear who at city hall is relevant to contact on this issue.
Chris April 05, 2012 at 09:45 PM
I’d guess that if you wanted to register with City Hall a view contrary to your Neighborhood Council and get it some consideration, you’d get a message to the Mayor through his staff, maybe go to the Mayor’s ombudsman for your neighborhood or contact your City Councilor or an At Large Councilor who has taken an interest in the issue. The JPNC was not designed to be or supposed to be a final word from JP to the city—it’s an advisory body whose coming into existence did not block the path of anyone who wanted to go straight to any of the people I listed above. I trust no one thinks that going to City Hall is an underhanded end run around an advisory body whose members were elected on the basis of hundreds of votes or, in some cases, not elected. There is no obligation for citizens to consent to their interests at City Hall being represented solely through the collective action of the JPNC. Hence my questioning this idea that City Hall, as opposed to the JPNC, is "apart from any institutional mechanisms in existence to enable the participation of residents in local governance." It’s democracy and freedom in action to say “You’re not speaking for me, so I’ll speak for myself.”
Jen April 05, 2012 at 10:02 PM
chris, thanks for the info! just to clarify: no hard feelings, but it does appear that you are arguing with a different issue than the one i'm raising. certainly, residents are free to contact anyone at city hall, and to expect that city hall will be responsive to their input. rich made a confident assertion that the people at city hall can be counted on to ignore the jpnc. the portion of my remark you have quoted was intended to convey that if we can count on city hall to ignore the jpnc, then we are counting on city hall to undermine a body that operates with the purpose of facilitating resident participation in local governance. i apologize if that was unclear in my original statement.
Sharon Stagliola April 05, 2012 at 10:17 PM
Terrell, I can tell you I signed the petition. One day as I was checking out at Whole Foods, I noticed a petition and asked the cashier what it was for. She said that it was a petition for seating at the store. I asked if I could sign it. She said yes and handed it to me, explaining that in two days they had received so many signatures that they had received overwhelming support. She said that she thought they were taking the petition down that night because they didn't expect to get so many signatures so quickly and felt that they had received overwhelming support for customers' requests for seating. I know this is a long comment, but the entire conversation took less than a minute. And Reed, it took less than 10 seconds to figure out what the petition was for.
Chris April 05, 2012 at 10:22 PM
Rich’s point is not that there’s a fixer at City Hall who undermines a democratic institution called the JPNC, so asking him who this person is misses his point. Rich says City Hall pays scant attention because it “knows” the JPNC is “a biased board that they city knows does not reflect the population.” If Rich is right then City Hall is considers the JPNC, with its hundreds of voters and unelected reps and its highly unpopular stances regarding Whole Foods, as not effective at is putative role of voice of JP. Who is to argue with that? City Hall’s obligation is to listen to the residents, not to an institution these residents largely ignore and which is seemingly operating in another orbit from most of them.
Jen April 05, 2012 at 10:52 PM
chris, thanks for the clarifications. if indeed there is a belief within city government that the jpnc is not truly fulfilling its role of facilitating the perspectives and participation of a broad base of residents within the neighborhood, then that is certainly a legitimate concern. i would still suggest that both the city and democratic functioning itself could be better served by pursuing such a concern through transparent and appropriate channels, not by simply sidelining or working against the jpnc. i realize that the more likely avenue is the one you and rich are describing (a glance/scant attention), i just don't think it's an upstanding course of action. btw, for myself i see the jpnc creating space for viewpoints that don't appear to have avenues for representation by our set of elected officials, and doing the tough work of playing a leadership role in relative isolation (given reluctance of many jp community-based orgs to engage the issue). nonetheless, the issue of low electoral turn-out for jpnc elections remains a serious concern and risks undermining their legitimacy. i hope we can address this issue going forward! (prior to the wf issue exploding, i am one of the residents who had no understanding of this body and did not vote in its elections. now i am aware of this aspect of local governance and can share this information with others in the hopes that they will vote.) okay, thanks much for this exchange. i'm getting no work done! must sign off here.
L.J. Hummel April 06, 2012 at 03:13 PM
Dana - Check out Blue Nile, the newish Ethiopian restaurant in Hyde Square next to Food Wall. They have great veggie options. The portions are HUGE, the prices reasonable and the people who work there so welcoming!
Dana April 06, 2012 at 03:51 PM
LJ: Blue Nile is great. But I have a gluten sensitivity, so injera isn't my jam.
Dax April 07, 2012 at 02:19 AM
Wow, more people signed the petition for Whole Foods to have seating than voted in the JPNC election. Maybe the next election should be held at Whole Foods?
steve dudley April 09, 2012 at 02:55 PM
Hi all, I have been going to WF in other towns for years mainly for lunch from their salad bars. The fresh veggies, grains and marinated meats would take me forever to make and cost a fortune, so I go there and eat and enjoy the sunshine outside. I moved near Hyde Sq in 1974, tried some restaurants then and it was miserable. I haven't been back there till WF moved in. I always felt, maybe mistakenly, that Hyde Sq and establishments were dirty and dangerous. Whole Foods brought me back to Hyde Sq and I have a new appreciation of the area.
Lisa Gallagher May 15, 2012 at 02:22 PM
I think the JP Whole Foods is a disappointment. They should be focusing on getting a meat counter and improving the quality of their produce. Right now its like an over priced Trader Joe's. I did not think it was possible for Whole Foods to do a poor job. It's obnoxious that they now want to add seating. I don't shop there anymore.
Chris Helms (Editor) May 15, 2012 at 04:28 PM
Hi Lisa, thanks for your comment. You might be interested in the "Vegging Out" column I just posted in which JP's Jim Morgan is also underwhelmed with with "hit and miss" vegetarian offerings: http://patch.com/A-tns3

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