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An Open Letter to Jamaica Plain on "The Whole Foods Effect"

In contrast, there's "The Jamaica Plain Effect" – the impact of a powerful, loving, grassroots community taking ownership of itself.

Dear Neighbors,

I have been listening deeply to the heated controversy incited by the news that Whole Foods' plans to open a new store in Hyde Square, the Latin Quarter of our neighborhood.

The lively debate of the past few weeks has inspired me to learn more, to research more, and to better understand the extent to which the arrival of a Whole Foods Market should be expected to contribute to gentrification in Jamaica Plain.

What I’ve learned is that for years journalists, real-estate agents, developers, and city planning consultants around the country have been discussing a phenomenon called “The Whole Foods Effect." It refers to the impact of a Whole Foods store on the value of surrounding real-estate and its magnet-like tendency to draw other upscale stores.

The Whole Foods Effect, I’ve learned, has been known to dramatically accelerate the process of gentrification. Perhaps the most well-known commenter on this subject is the CEO of Whole Foods himself, John Mackey, who in a 2007 CNNmoney.com article said, "The joke is that we could have made a lot more money just buying up real estate around our stores and developing it than we could make selling groceries."

While Mackey’s comment is both revealing and demonstrates a lack of concern about the role his company plays in the gentrification of neighborhoods, he is hardly the only person to point out this connection. Greg Badishkanian, an analyst with Citigroup who tracks Whole Foods, said in a 2006 NPR story, "When Whole Foods opens up a store in a particular market, all of the real estate in the area gets a nice uplift. It could be a few percent to 10, 15, 20 percent in terms of the real estate value."

Realtors, too, have been saying it for years. For example, in Southern California, real estate agent Phillipe Rodrigue blogged in 2010, "one way to instantly increase property values is to have a big, beautiful Whole Foods Market open up right in your neighborhood!"

Much like Rodrigue, a Chicago realtor named Brett Hutchins wanted to buy a condo near a new Whole Foods in Sarasota, saying, 'I know what happens to real-estate values when Whole Foods goes in.'"

Even a 2007 study in Portland, Ore. found that property values typically go up byabout 17.5 percent if you live nearby a Whole Foods. [The study, “An Assessment of the Marginal Impact of Urban Amenities on Residential Pricing,” is attached at right as a PDF.]

But out of all of the communities hit by the Whole Foods Effect, the Ward 2 neighborhood in Washington, D.C. is interestingly analogous to Boston’s Latin Quarter.

Ten years ago, at the turn of the century, D.C.’s Ward 2 went through a similar grocery store turnover during a major shift in its population and income. The parallels portend the risks that Hyde Square faces in welcoming a Whole Foods Market.

Neighborhoods in Transition

First of all, when the P Street Whole Foods opened in Ward 2, it replaced a more affordable grocery store (across the street). [See attached PDF at right, "The Impact of Whole Foods on the 14th St. and Greater Logan Circle Area."]

Hyde Square’s affordable grocery store, Hi-Lo (arguably the most affordable grocer in Jamaica Plain), is set to be replaced by Whole Foods. So, in both communities, we see the transformation of an accessible grocery store to an upscale one.

Secondly, both neighborhoods were inhabited primarily by people of color and then saw these populations leave in large numbers during the ten years prior to catching the attention of Whole Foods. In the decade prior to Whole Foods’ new P Street store inWard 2, the neighborhood’s African American population had declined by 23 percent. [also according to "The Impact of Whole Foods," attached.] In Hyde Square, the percentage of residents of Latin American descent has declined 26 percent from 2000 to 2009, according to the Census Bureau's American Community Survey.

Thirdly, as the racial makeup changed in each area, so did the income levels. The Jamaica Plain neighborhood experienced a roughly 20 percent increase in income in the last ten years, as did Ward 2 before the arrival of Whole Foods, according to Onboard LLC.

These similarities give us reason to look closely at what happened in Ward 2. There, the arrival of Whole Foods was the “watershed event” in the neighborhood’s gentrification. Clearly, it didn’t start the process, but it did cause its acceleration.

Turning up the Heat

Even the Community Liaison for the P Street Whole Foods, Zachary Stein, acknowledged it in a Public Radio Exchange piece: “How do I see our store as part of the gentrification? The newer residents wanted us to come, so we came and we catered to the newer residents…While we didn’t cause it, it was already happening before we got here…it was well on it’s way by the time we showed up, but I guess we sort of helped the process along.”

In that same Public Radio Exchange piece, a group of 8th-graders took their mics out on the streets of Ward 2 and recorded people’s views on the gentrifying impact of Whole Foods. Everyone seemed to acknowledge, as one person put it, “[Whole Foods] didn’t start the gentrification, but it definitely helped it.”

Another said, “Anytime you see a Whole Foods, you know that’s gonna be a new neighborhood. If a Whole Foods goes into a neighborhood, then you know that neighborhood’s changing."

It “made a statement that this was going to be an area for wealthier shoppers,” according to the Degan and Haber P Street study [attached as PDF.]

The P Street study concluded, “the appearance of Whole Foods has dramatically increased the speed of gentrification in the area” – beyond the speed of grassroots checks and balances.

Walking through Ward 2, you’ll now see new condos, new niche stores for the wealthy, higher-end chain stores, older businesses that have had to adapt to survive, and new businesses that replaced the ones that didn’t (or couldn’t) adapt. Property values have escalated – the home of Wayne Dickson, who lobbied for the P Street Whole Foods, was worth $230,000 in 1986 and is now assessed at $1.6 million (Dickson understood the Whole Foods Effect before it even hit Ward 2, as evidenced in this Washinton Post piece.)

The most poignant observation of the damage done by the Whole Foods Effect ironically comes from Mr. Dickson, "We're losing a great number of our poorer neighbors and our African American neighbors. Today there are only two remaining African American families on this block. There have been people who have cashed out, who have done very, very well -- but! They won't ever get back in."

Some pre-existing residents may experience some specific benefits from some specific aspects of The Whole Foods Effect. But overall, we see the faces of neighborhoods changing. As Fran Robertson, a long-time D.C. resident, put it in talking to the Washington Post, "A lot of the blacks are having to move because they can't afford to stay here. These are people who have owned their own homes but have had to leave because the taxes are going up. The affluent is coming in, and the have-nots are moving out, and it's not right."

Renters beholden to the private market are also displaced, not by “cashing out”, but by being priced out. So the face of a neighborhood changes as the door is shut and locked behind them, likely much quicker if you add The Whole Foods Effect.

Does Hyde Square want to live through the Whole Foods Effect much like Ward 2? What does Hyde Square want to look like in 10 years?

The Jamaica Plain Effect

As the shadow of Whole Foods blankets Boston’s Latin Quarter, the corporation is seeing something they’ve probably never seen before – a very large and well-organized group ofneighbors rising out of their armchairs, shutting their laptops, sweeping up their children and gathering at public rallies and forums, demanding an affordable and diverse Jamaica Plain without Whole Foods. They’ve launched a campaign called “Whose Foods?”, collected hundreds of petition signatures, spoken out to the Neighborhood Council, produced four videos, garnered the attention of major papers and blogs, gathered over 400 Facebook fans, written letters-to-editors, and created a bilingual Web site that even nay-sayers are calling “very slick” -- all in a handful of weeks.

I imagine that Whole Foods assumed Hyde Square would give ground in much the sameway as Ward 2. But Jamaica Plainers are unusual – not only have residents here successfully kept out Dominos, Jack-in-the-Box, K-Mart, and a state highway, but there are also some truly meaningful and rich ties between neighbors across race and class that have quickly woven a network of resistance. This is the Jamaica Plain Effect – the impact of a powerful, loving, grassroots community taking ownership of itself.

I stand with everyone who is opposed to a Whole Foods in Hyde Square. With hope and faith, I ask my neighbors to join me.

Helen Matthews

Atherton Street

Jamaica Plain resident since 2002

[Editor's note: I've replaced the writer's original footnotes with links and the two attached PDFs at the right of studies she cites. I thought that would be easier to follow.]

jljp March 07, 2011 at 09:18 PM
I've just joined a great new site petitioning a welcoming JP for ALL of use who live and work here! You may want to check it out: www.jpforall.org
anon March 07, 2011 at 09:30 PM
If rising property values are a bad thing, are falling property values a good thing? And if so, should we do everything we can to make neighborhoods less desirable places to live?
jljp March 07, 2011 at 09:32 PM
I've just joined a great new site petitioning a welcoming JP for ALL of us who live and work here! You may want to check it out: www.jpforall.org
Rira March 08, 2011 at 03:20 AM
Yes absolutely. Quick, tell the city to cancel the spring street cleaning, stop collecting trash weekly, go to once a month trash collection, add graffitti to all buildings, close libraries, close subway lines, no more youth jobs, create potholes, turn off street lights, close all public parks - help me out guys how else can we lower property values? We must make the whose fooders happy!
CN March 08, 2011 at 06:00 PM
Bravo, JP! Well said. " Jamaica Plain is for us, not for the rich people." - Betsaida Gutiérrez - Perhaps one of the most ridiculous quotes I have read throughout this whole debate!
kathy griffin March 10, 2011 at 03:35 PM
Hi-Lo was a movie theatre in the 1930s and 1940s. Should we revert to that? El Oriental de Cuba was a German bakery in 1900. Should we revert to that? Spontaneous Celebrations was the German Club up to ca. 1987. Should we revert to that? Southgate Pharmacy was on the corner of Moraine and Huntington. Should we revert to that? Flanagan's was next to it (now CVS). Does anyone really miss Flanagan's? The out-of-date meat products? Come on, guys. Change happens.
John Stephen Dwyer March 10, 2011 at 11:00 PM
I have lived in Jamaica Plain off-and-on since 1967 and, obviously, I have seen more changes than I can count. All of them were opposed (sometimes violently) by someone. Ultimately, all have been widely accepted and contribute to the character of JP in the 21st Century. We should be uncomfortable with the assumption that anything viewed as “a threat to the current neighborhood” should be resisted. Wouldn't it be wrong to (for example) oppose the creation of a Hispanic supermarket in a mostly Irish-American section of West Roxbury on the grounds that it would change the character of the community and possibly change housing values? In the area of Hyde Square, some of the people who benefit from increasing property values are part of the same Spanish-speaking population people are trying to “protect.” No matter what your ethnic background, how would you feel to learn that someone was actively engaged in a campaign to stop the value of your property from increasing? While gentrification has a downside, the ghetto-izatio of JP's Hispanophone community has a downside as well. Let's be careful what we wish for. We are all entitled to opinions, and here's mine: Without us having a strong, feasible and promptly-implementable alternative to Whole Food's arrival, actively opposing it is deeply misguided.
David Hannon March 10, 2011 at 11:21 PM
Well stated John. Thanks for being a thoughful voice in this discussion.
geffe March 14, 2011 at 04:03 PM
So the folks who own property around Hyde Square might see the values go up because of Whole Pay Check moving in. JP already has two overly priced markets, Harvest, which is dirty and smells bad, and City Feed & Supply which is so over priced it's a joke. And yet they are filled with folks buying stuff. WF offers some good products for decent prices and while I'm not inclined to shop there myself I don't see why this would not be a good thing. If anything it would put Harvest on notice to clean up their act.
Bob from JP March 14, 2011 at 06:38 PM
I wonder if the Whole Foods opponents have actually ever been to a whole foods store? I went to the Dedham whole foods to refresh my memory of what they have to offer. I did a full shopping trip, with some extras that I normally would not buy (the great free samples they offer did me in), and ended up spending a grand total of $10-$15 more than my usual amount at Super 88 and Super Stop&Shop in Dorchester. (Household composed of 2 people and 2 very hungry, organic vegetable-enjoying rabbits.) Mind you, this was buying organic produce vs. the non-organic stuff I usually purchase for dirt cheap at Super 88. Let's say $15 is the difference per week. Annualize that and you get approximately $800 per year to eat non-chemically treated, healthier produce. If you ask me, that's not a high price to pay. If I did not purchase organic, there essentially would be no delta between my typical shopping trips and Whole Foods. So this "Whole Paycheck" thing is preposterous in my opinion - sure, if you are buying all of the niche gourmet products they offer, you can rack up a large grocery bill in a hurry - but if you're looking for some staples and fresh produce, you are not paying much (if anything) more than you would elsewhere. Besides, if it pains you so much to be around all the "yuppies" at WF, just go to the Stop & Shop down the street.
geffe March 14, 2011 at 07:13 PM
Lighten up, it's a joke moniker used by a lot of people. By the way for some $15 a week more in produce is more than they can afford. You feed your rabbits organic produce, enough said. Most of what they sell a WF is pretty expensive. So is Harvest and most of the other markets in the area. I don't really care if they move into JP myself. They are not known for being very good to the staff, and are very anti-union. But hey I don't work there. They are known to make people work ridiculous hours and then fire them before the benefits kick in.
Bob from JP March 14, 2011 at 07:36 PM
The "joke moniker" has been tossed around by WF critics in JP as being a fact, which it is not. Many people will just accept it without actually going to the store and seeing the prices for themselves. To your earlier point, the food at City Feed is far and away more expensive than WF, and yet no one is complaining about that. Why don't we replace City Feed with a Bodega with low cost Latino and Caribbean foods? (I do love the fact that if a business is not a corporation, it is exempt from the same criticism as a big company receives) I understand $15 a week for some is not feasible - that's why Stop & Shop is available down the street, which offers somewhat lower prices than WF. As far as feeding my rabbits organic vegetables, if I've worked hard enough to be able to do it, why shouldn't I? A 5 lb rabbit's tolerance for chemicals present in non-organic food is far less than a human being's. Your rabbit comment brings me to my underlying point - the theme implicit in all of these discussions is that those that are not in the working class should somehow feel guilty about it. What ever happenned to working your way up to something better and enjoying the fruits (and vegetables) of your labor? Why should "middle to upper class" resident of JP be deprived from having access to a local Whole Foods? Because they are not economically disadvantaged, their concerns don't matter as much?
geffe March 14, 2011 at 07:49 PM
Oh poor you. No Whole Foods for you and your wabbit. Are you serious? Personally I've only been in City Feed once and walked out after seeing that one would need a second mortgage to shop there. By the way, that's a joke. I shop at WF in Dedham myself and as I said I don't have any issues with WF opening a store in JP. Mind you I only go there maybe once every three months. Are you aware of how absurd you sound? Playing up class distinctions? I'm not working class myself but I would put this into an argument on a public forum. It is in poor taste to wear ones accomplishments or financial luck on their sleeves. Really bad form. Just not cricket as they say.
Bob from JP March 14, 2011 at 08:02 PM
I think you're dead wrong. "Financial Luck" has little, if anything to do with it. Why is it that if someone is successful, financially or otherwise, they are deemed "lucky". It marginalizes the hard work that goes into it and suggests that the only explanation for poverty is having been "unlucky". Preposterous. If you're poor, you can cry on the mountain tops about your plight all day long, but if you're not, God forbid you voice your opinion and don't bury your achievements. As I tried to convey, in my opinion, this is not about Whole Foods. In truth, I could care less if Whole Foods comes to JP or not - my yuppie self has been just fine eating non-organic produce for the entirety of my life, and will continue to be fine if by some cataclysmic event, WF does not follow through in JP. What I resent is the demonization of people that are "well off" by these protesters. It's one thing to advocate for the rights of citizens in the community - it's another thing entirely to try to explicitly exclude a different demographic from moving in. But hey, I think Betsaida Guiterrez summed it up best, "JP is for us, not for the rich people".
Jonathan March 14, 2011 at 08:20 PM
This leaves me wondering if Betsaida Guiterrez would move out of JP if her income increased, and if she encourages others to leave as their salaries grow? Or is she just a bigot and means only non-minority 'rich' people? A clarification from her would be nice. As far as it being in poor taste to wear one's accomplishments or financial luck on their sleeves, unless I'm misunderstanding the statement, are you saying a financially successful person shouldn't purchase nice cars/clothes/etc because that is flaunting their wealth? To take it to another extreme, abolish 'honor roll' in schools because that's flaunting your success in front of other students who aren't doing as well. That statement sounds borderline communist, which is fine if that's the political viewpoint you're trying to espouse. Please correct me if I have misunderstood your comment because it sounds so absurd I'm sure I have it wrong.
geffe March 14, 2011 at 09:19 PM
Luck does have something to do with as does hard work. I don't care how well off you are. I know some people who have been laid off and are worse off now than say five years ago. That's bad luck pal. You seem to have bad manners or are coming across that way. It's in bad taste to go around telling people how well off you are. I'm not excluding anyone and as I stated I don't care if WF moves in to JP or not. By the way when you're finished digging that hole can I have my shovel back.
geffe March 14, 2011 at 09:28 PM
yeah you have it wrong. It's in bad taste in conversation to flaunt ones wealth. You get it. To equate this with success at school is absurd. Mind you when my kid made honor roll I was not one of those parents who put one of those dumb bumper stickers on my car. So you see it's about class, having it I mean. The statement is about not having the good sense to know when to show ones wealth and when to be subtle about it. Being that this forum is about class and wealth I should think people who are better off should use some discretion on how they approach the subject. There use to be a time when talking about money was considered such a lower middle class thing to do. Interesting how that has changed.
Bob from JP March 14, 2011 at 09:59 PM
Geffe, great deflection of the actual underlying issues raised and regurgitation of what you have already stated multiple times, but I'll humor you for the sake of discourse..... Your contention is that I "flaunted" my "wealth" by noting that my rabbits enjoyed eating organic produce, is that correct? Would you have been happier with my manners if I indicated that I was too poor to feed my rabbits anything but scraps from the table? Do you know people who feed their dogs organic dog food? Do you assume they are flaunting their wealth when they do so?
geffe March 15, 2011 at 12:27 AM
So what you're doing is not regurgitation. Oh boy. Talk about self importance. I was not referring to your rabbits and your predilection to feed them organic lettuce. I happen to own a dog who eats regular dog food and table scraps. He's not picky and very healthy. I'm not a obsessive compulsive pet owner. You were flaunting the fact that you have money and that your a yuppy who wants Whole Foods to move into JP. That's rude in my book pal. Like I said getting back to the topic at hand I do not care if WF moves into JP or not. When I first moved to JP over 12 years ago it was affordable and a very diverse community. That's going away fast. It's becoming more like Brookline every year. Which is too bad in my view. I live in Hyde Park now, which is that poorer neighborhood next door. It's not as trendy as JP so it's avoided a lot of the issue JP has. I shop in JP sometimes on the way home from work. I still get my haircuts at Sals. I still go to some of the watering holes in JP as well. In my view the over gentrification of JP is more about a type of person more than money. You get my drift. They will also close down most of the local bakeries and other small shops that sell food. That's a given. On the other hand I know some farmers in Vermont who love WF. They sell all their produce to them. So for them it will be a good for business. I never said anything about poor or working class folks.
Bob from JP March 15, 2011 at 12:56 AM
No one flaunted anything, so I'm not sure why you are still harping on manners..... I'm also a bit mystified regarding why expressing a desire for Whole Foods to come to JP is rude, but ok. In any case, this has veered completely off topic and I'm sure everyone is sick of reading about it, so let's cease our mutual regurgitations and move on.
Maura March 15, 2011 at 02:39 AM
good god. thank you JP.
Mondo Punto Azul Blanco Naranja April 14, 2011 at 03:57 PM
Whole foods is going to do for JP what 30 years of misguided 'affordable' development programs could not do: Bring jobs and opportunity to JP. Instead you had the JPNDC screwing around with housing and development, shoe-horning in permanent subsidies of all kinds for people who need "community support" (welfare) in order to hang in JP. The times they are a changin' and we should be welcoming WF, not tormenting them with more idealogical garbage. The only people who should 'take responsibility' for dividing the 'community' is the letter writer and her group who seeks to control things they don't own and people who don't think like you do.
Mondo Punto Azul Blanco Naranja April 14, 2011 at 04:01 PM
Well said. I am more concerned about creeping socialist attitudes than about WF.
Loay May 02, 2011 at 06:03 PM
Having shopped at the Whole Foods on P street in DC, and as a home owner in Hyde Square, I fully agree with this beautifully reasoned and written article .
Anne Mackin May 08, 2011 at 05:50 PM
This is a masterful piece of journalism, using hearsay, well-selected quotes, and a few selective statistics to make a powerful case demonizing Whole Foods. I've looked at the sources referred to in this article and they are sloppily applied. For example, the radio-piece referred to on Washington's P Street neighborhood articulated many benefits of the gentrification there. That article attempted to be fair, which this letter does not. As a former urban planner, and former senior planner for the Commonwealth for two years, I can attest that Gentrification is a complex process. For example, JP will not be able to prevent the arrival of young professionals here as the Medical Area continues to grow (and the Medical Area growth is one of the factors that prevents the recession from hitting Boston and Massachusetts even harder than it has). There are both pros and cons to the arrival of Whole Foods. One of the benefits could be jobs for our Latino neighbors. (Boston Latinos have the highest rate of unemployment in the state.) The JPNC and City of Boston need to work to protect vulnerable JP residents from the rising rents and costs of living that can come with gentrification, as this letter suggests, but with real insight and understanding rather than the hysteria that surrounds this issue. Anne Mackin (JP resident for 21 years)
Maura May 09, 2011 at 02:47 AM
Bless you Anne.
Jen January 12, 2012 at 10:37 PM
homefries, bless you for putting yourself out there with this piece. man are people mean.
Bob from JP January 13, 2012 at 02:40 AM
Yeah homefries, thanks for putting together an op-ed entirely composed of conjecture, vague anecdotal references and over-reaching assumptions. Real gem. And thank you Jen for re-hashing this months after the fact. Bravo!
Cliff January 13, 2012 at 02:42 AM
game over, really...
patty January 13, 2012 at 12:01 PM
Jen Have you been out of the country? This article is 10 months old. The store has opened and people are shopping there. If you and others do not want to shop there then there are other options in the neighborhood. I thought we had finally put all this nonsense to rest. There are other issues...for example the MBTA wants to raise fares outrageously. We will all be afected by that so protesters why don't you come out to the Hennigan school on Feb 6 at 6 pm to raise your voices in protest. A grocery is not hurting our neighborhood but T fares at the dounble the price will have a far greater effect on jobs and our neighbors. I will be there because I take the T and the suggested changes are ridiculous!! Protest this NOT a store that is open and frequented by the neighborhood. Patty

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