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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.

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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 told the Licensing Board that customers are clamoring for seating where they can eat prepared foods bought at the store.

The grocer's lawyer, Mike Scott, said JP already has examples of similar businesses that have such seating — citing and . Further, he said there is ample parking.

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 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 .

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 .

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 .

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.

Reed Miller June 13, 2012 at 07:23 PM
Thanks for reporting, Chris!
Derryl June 13, 2012 at 07:28 PM
Too bad the parking lot behind El Orientale isn't used for parking cars instead of dumpsters. Parking in cities is problematic and always will be.
Ben Mauer June 13, 2012 at 08:10 PM
I totally agree with the opponents of the seating. If approved, it's going to be one of the biggest restaurants in Hyde Square! How is that not going to make parking and traffic issues even worse than they are, making Hyde Square a less desirable place for those not shopping at Whole Foods to grab a bite to eat? How is the seating not going to create unfair competition for local businesses in Hyde Square? The comparisons to City Feed and Harvest are bogus. City Feed has no outdoor seating in either location and Harvest only has like three tables outside, and none inside. Second of all, did you catch the fact that nearly every local restaurant in Hyde Square opposed Whole Foods seating plan? Does that count for anything Mayor Menino? Do you think you could maybe wait for the hearing to come to a conclusion on whether you support it? I don't want my elected representatives throwing their power around, I want them listening. Finally, Hyde/Jackson Main Streets is a puppet organization of the Mayor with no relevance whatsoever other than as a glorified rubber stamp. If we keep listening to Hyde/Jackson Main Streets we'll have a Bertucci's, Starbucks, and maybe even a Chipotle in no time flat. Hey, it's business folks, who cares if they rip off our neighborhood?
Scott June 13, 2012 at 08:30 PM
"rip off our neighborhood?" For instance, Nobel Garcia, owner of El Oriental de Cuba restaurant in Jamaica Plain, admitted serving ocean perch instead of the $14 red snapper in garlic sauce promised on his menu. “They are completely different fish. I’m not going to lie to you,’’ he said. The switch, Garcia said, began when red snapper was hard to find and more expensive - he could buy ocean perch for about $4 pound, compared with roughly $8 a pound for red snapper fillets. “The flavor is pretty good,’’ he said. “I have never received any complaints about it in the last couple of years.’’ But after being questioned by a Globe reporter about the substitution, Garcia recently revised the menu at his small Cuban restaurant to list ocean perch. http://articles.boston.com/2011-12-28/news/30560697_1_mislabeled-fish-mislabeled-seafood-white-tuna/2
Rich P June 13, 2012 at 08:33 PM
SUPPORT - I hope the city listens to the very real 1,000+ people who signed the petition for seating. I have never seen anywhere in our constitution, state or federal, that we as a society prevent competition. Quite the contrary, we encourage competition. Political competition (also known as elections) , professional competition, that is why we have 1,000's of doctors, plumbers, journalists and of course business competition. Specifically, that is why we have several "restaurant rows" in 100's of locations across the country. In fact, many restaurants succeed solely because they are on restaurant row. They seek locations on such rows knowing that a location that is off restaurant row is 6 times more likely to fail.
gretchen van ness June 13, 2012 at 08:34 PM
In its May meeting, the JPNC's Public Services Committee unanimously approved the application of Caffe Aromi to open a year-round 40+ seat restaurant in Hyde Square, and to add seasonal patio seating. Caffe Aromi has no parking (unlike Whole Foods) and offers the same types of foods as other restaurants in Hyde Square. In its June meeting, the Committee approved (again unanimously) the application of Sanctuary Restaurant to open a year-round 80-seat establishment, with outdoor patio seating, in the JPNDC's Blessed Sacrament Campus on Centre Street. 80 seats, and Sanctuary has fewer than 20 parking spaces behind the building. It, too, will offer foods that are similar to those offered by other restaurants in Hyde Square. In addition, both restaurantts will have longer hours than Whole Foods. If you are concerned about traffic and parking and "unfair" competition with local businesses, a handful of tables and chairs at a grocery store is the least of your worries. Your concerns should be directed at the JPNC, which has approved both businesses, and the JPNDC, which has worked hard to bring Sanctuary to Hyde Square. Hyde/Jackson Main Street did neither.
Rich P June 13, 2012 at 08:39 PM
EMPLOYEE PARKING There absolutely are employees that park on neighborhood streets - I have seen a few specifically. While I do support WFM in so many ways, I must say that I am displeased with staff parking on neighborhood streets. WFM needs to do a far better job enforcing the rule that ALL staff parks in the Angell lot. I hope someone from WFM is reading this and responds !
gretchen van ness June 13, 2012 at 08:43 PM
It would be easier for Whole Foods employees to use the Angell parking lot if the gate in the wall on Perkins Street were unlocked. Can that be done, at least during the hours the store is open?
Rich P June 13, 2012 at 08:45 PM
SCOTT, Thanks for reminding us of Oriental de Cuba's affront to business ethics - deliberately serving a lower quality and priced fish , while advertising and charging for another higher priced/better quality product. I do not recall the owner offering to reimburse his loyal patrons after the Globe published the information. I had been a frequent customer until that report was made public. I no longer go there. I was and remain appalled.
Derryl June 13, 2012 at 09:04 PM
What about employees from other businesses? Do you want to dictate where they park? Do you feel the streets are for everyone except for employees of Whole Foods?
Jon June 13, 2012 at 11:38 PM
Why is it considered so scandalous for us to favor our home-grown businesses over a multinational Texas-based chain? The defenders of Whole Foods seem to have a religious devotion to letting the billionaires get an equal say with the rest of us. That seems to get their only argument. It really comes down to which kind of society we wish to have.
Shawn F. June 13, 2012 at 11:41 PM
what about all the people who work in the medical area who park on our streets and take the 39 bus to work? I have seen at least 15-20 regulars over the years who park on Perkins and South Huntington to take the bus to Brigham Circle. Why do you not call out BWH, Childrens, Harvard Medical School..... WFM should offer free employee parking while others do not?
Jamie Richman June 13, 2012 at 11:56 PM
Caffe Aromi's investment group is composed of investors all outside of JP and would have more seating than Whole Foods. Kennedy Fried Chicken is infinitely worse for the neighborhood and headquartered in NYC, but its opening hasn't elicited a peep from the community. The opponents of Whole Foods seem devoted to focusing on this one store while blindly ignoring everything going on around it. The opponents' only argument since the store opened has been "they shouldn't be allowed to do _______ because they're Whole Foods." We know which kind of society we have: It's one with a Whole Foods on Centre Street that a whole lot of us shop at. Whether the part-time activists who only crow at injustices like cafe seating and marinated steak tips want to accept that our society is made up of people of all stripes is up to them.
Derryl June 14, 2012 at 02:04 AM
People are grateful to be able to shop at a variety of businesses in our society. You can chat with the owner of a small business. J.P. Licks started as one little shop near the Acapulco Restaurant and grew to a small chain with hard work and a delicious product. I shop at Whole Foods because they offer a large selection of insecticde free foods, antibiotic free meats, healthy products etc, not because I don't like small businesses. I have been spending money at small businesses in Hyde Square for twenty five years and still do.
LT Weinberg June 14, 2012 at 12:09 PM
I think about it this way: if you are a restaurant owner who is sure that people would rather sit in the parking lot of a grocery store and eat food from a cardboard box than go into your place of business, maybe it is time to freshen up the business model?
Jamie Richman June 14, 2012 at 12:23 PM
Their seating will still be less than at Caffe Aromi and your argument just ignores both taste and human nature. Honestly, who's going to eat Scottish, Ethiopian or Cuban food in a supermarket as they would in a restaurant. The deli sandwiches are a different story, as there's no viable option for those anywhere in the neighborhood. The point about City Feed and Harvest is that they are both allowed tables. Denying whole foods the same privilege based on absolutely nothing would be hypocritical Whole Foods which, by the way, never added espresso and cappuccino to its menu despite promising a nearby local business it wouldn't (City Feed, when it lied to JP Licks about its Centre Street location) , never added beer and wine sales despite a local liquor store nearby (City Feed, which just did this to Blanchards) and didn't just reduce options for its loyal, longtime customers in favor of stocking a larger store in no-man's land (Harvest, which just eliminated orange juice, half and half and breakfast meat options on South Street to make that shop a "boutique" once the Rozzie location opens). Nearly every local restaurant? Not quite. Canary Square, The Haven and Sorella's seem just fine with it. Maybe that's because they don't try to pass off dock leftovers as premium fish or try to play the "at least we're not Starbucks" card with an overpriced coffee shop that's not half as community friendly as Junebug was.
Jamie Richman June 14, 2012 at 12:35 PM
"Hyde/Jackson Main Streets is a puppet organization of the Mayor." Oh, that's nice. HJMS has been improving Hyde Square and helping its businesses longer than you've known Hyde Square existed, Ben. Oh, and it's filled with longtime residents who've had a stake in this community for decades and didn't just move here when their Roxbury apartment wasn't cultural-tourist enough for them. I was glad when they put your carpetbagging, paternalist posterior in its place at last summer's meeting. Their take on your "help" was a great moment of clarity in the WF debate. Bertucci's is on the way to bankruptcy, but I'm glad at least Charlie Fiore recognizes the need for an Italian restaurant in this neighborhood. Think Starbucks isn't coming? Look at the storefront in the new condos on Amory and Green and tell me that isn't a Starbucks. "Maybe even Chipotle." If Chipotle came, do you think that would make the line at Alex's Chimi's any shorter, the wait for a table at Miami any shorter or the tacos from Tacos Del Charro any less tasty? Why do you repeatedly suggest that local businesses A) Don't know what they're doing and B) Couldn't fend off some weaksauce corporate competition. The two Dunkin Donuts a couple blocks up Centre Street haven't driven Fiore's, Monumental Cupcakes or Blue Frog out of business. The Bertucci's near the D line wasn't exactly drawing crowds away from JP restaurants (and shut down as a result). I'll continue supporting the locals, but I support tables.
ann merritt June 14, 2012 at 01:31 PM
Oh stop the class warfare argument. I just want to have a table and chair to eat the prepared food I buy at WF! It's tough sitting on the ground in their parking lot to eat. I used to go to Legacy Place , Dedham for a meal at WF and would go to the shops around WF afterwards. However, after a few bad experiences at the local "latino" restaurants I went to in Hyde Sq, I would never go to Hyde Sq again, untill WF moved in. I may explore what local eateries have to offer now that WF has brought me back. Maybe a little competition will nudge the "homegrown" restaurants to pay attention!
Phil Lindsay June 14, 2012 at 01:34 PM
Why does Burger King set up next to Macdonalds? To sell more hamburgers! Other businesses fighting Wholefoods should take a look in the mirror and think about upgrading their offerings perhaps. More folks means more business for everyone. Those worried about gentrification should wake up that bus left JP twenty years ago.
gretchen van ness June 14, 2012 at 01:55 PM
Folks who are attacking Hyde/Jackson Main Street may be interested to know that among the many storefront improvement projects it has helped with over the years (including Atlantic Travel, Beauty Master, Food Wall, Home Basics, and many others in the district), in the late 1990s the organization assisted in securing significant funding and design help for the makeover of Hi Lo's iconic storefront. The fact that Whole Foods invested its own money to make needed improvements in the building means that there is more funding available for the other businesses in our district.
Rich P June 14, 2012 at 01:58 PM
RE: Parking - it is specifically because many people park in JP neighborhood streets then hop on a subway or bus, that there are more resident only parking signs. I would rather not have resident parking so that family & friends can come to visit. People on my street have been talking more and more about requesting resident parking within so many blocks of whole foods. I keep saying I would prefer we keep our neighborhood open parking ... but the more it gets abused, the more likely the voices will rise and organize for resident parking ... and I would not blame them.
Scott June 14, 2012 at 02:31 PM
Our streets are like a free parking lot for out of towners. Don't forget all the boarders at these flop houses, living 8 people to a unit, each with their own car plus their gf/bf's cars. One unit on my street takes up every spot on the street, all out of state plates - RI, OH, NH, ME, PA, NJ, NY. I'll lead the lobby to zone the neighborhood resident only.
Rich P June 14, 2012 at 03:03 PM
Scott. I hear ya! I like to look for the best in people ... but I am so often proved wrong. Some people will take advantage of any system. In the case of WFM staff, it is easier to park in neighborhood streets than walk all the way around to the front of Angell and then backwards to the store, because the side gate that faces the back of WFM is closed (what bonehead locked the gate?). and of course to your point even our own JP residents abuse the system which then makes resident parking more and more appealing. The Cambridge system gives each registered resident a visitor pass, so that they can have family and friends visit. I have friends on Barbara street who , I think, have contacted the city to have resident parking for these reasons.
Kosta Demos June 14, 2012 at 04:50 PM
Unless marked otherwise, curbside parking is for everyone. Get over it.
Rik A. June 14, 2012 at 06:59 PM
Parking is not going to be solved by Whole Foods. In fact they've done a good job at finding creative solutions (e.g., negotiating to use the MSPCA lot). Most of the merchants in Hyde Square park right in front of their stores (which makes me wonder how locally owned these business are if they have to drive to work). They take up spaces that could service their customers, but they don't care.
Rik A. June 14, 2012 at 07:05 PM
(I wish you could edit comments on this site!) @Gretchen: When the HJMS design committee convinced the MSPCA to remove the chain link years ago, the MSPCA agreed to keep the gate open so their employees could get to the square to patronize neighborhood businesses at lunchtime. Shortly after, the gate was promptly locked, and they said they locked it for security reasons - they didn't want people cutting through their parking lot to get to S Huntington. That happened back in the late '90s. The MSPCA administration has changed since then, so it may be worthwhile for HJMS to approach them again and see if they'd be willing to unlock the gate (or remove it completely).
Chris Helms (Editor) June 14, 2012 at 08:00 PM
Hey Rik, you can in effect edit your own comments by deleting them and posting a fresh one. I copy the old one when I have to do this, paste it into a new comment, and correct it before submitting. Hope that helps.
gretchen van ness June 14, 2012 at 08:27 PM
Rik, thanks for the information about the history with the MSPCA. We'll look into it!
Chris Helms (Editor) June 14, 2012 at 08:35 PM
Hi all. The city has granted Whole Foods' request to add seating: http://patch.com/A-vjm2
Rich P June 14, 2012 at 09:40 PM
Gretchen, I so look forward to the island of sanity that you provide. You have such a wealth of knowledge about J P and you present your information in such a sound and reasonable manner. I have heard from people in JP how much they too appreciate your participation in the many conversations around town.

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