Letter to the Editor: Whole Foods' Opponents Should Not Shop There and Convince Others Not To Shop There

As owners of private property, (even cars and iPods and books) we are all free to buy and sell what we own as long as we follow the rules.

Helen Matthews’ is an articulate gem that sparkles in many ways.  I enjoyed reading it from beginning to end. She makes her points with evidence and elegance. I hope we’ll get to read a lot more of what she writes in the future, but I disagree with her for two reasons: justice and confidence.  

As far as we know, nothing about this transaction was illegal.  In this case, both Whole Foods and Knapp Foods have acted according to the laws we have long followed, the same laws that work on our behalf in different circumstances.  As owners of private property, (even cars and iPods and books) we are all free to buy and sell what we own as long as we follow the rules. The two parties have done that. There is a contract. It is legal.  

Preventing this deal would come perilously close to a public taking of private property to benefit the goals of one segment of the population. I think that’s community organized theft. 

How many people actually want to keep Whole Foods out? It would set a dangerous precedent to formally ask that question.  Are we going to rule by plebiscite, or worse yet, protest march, on the workings of every property contract in JP?   

I don't know how a community can nullify a contract except perhaps by condemning the property and then claiming it for a higher community purpose, eminent domain. The Knapps would be big losers, although the moralists would argue that their loss is justly deserved for their poor stewardship of the past and of course the public would have to pay them for their property at market rate, which this flap demonstrates is pretty high.  So maybe they wouldn't lose as much as the moralists might like. Whole Foods would be out the cost of the transaction so far, but they would still be able to find someplace else to locate a JP store, maybe adjacent to Stop & Shop in the new development. That's a scenario a novelist might write. 

A huge property in Connecticut was taken by condemnation. In that case the mall developer and big business won the day, not a grass roots community group, but it might be the precedent that Whose Foods needs. I'd hate to see this case drag out in the courts like that one. The CT case went to the US Supreme Court. Oh and guess what, the driving force there, Pfizer, the international drug giant, later pulled out of the deal because of the damage being done to its community image. Land was taken, homes were bulldozed, but demonstrating people forced the outcome in the marketplace. Pfizer didn't want to continue getting metaphorically bloodied. The commercial development had already gone through, though and the property had been transferred from private property owners to the public for the purpose of commercial development. Barring a land taking, one can easily imagine a similar bludgeoning in Hyde Square resulting in a different national company at the other end of a new Knapp lease if Whole Foods walks away. That would be the proverbial devil we don't know.  

Now, if you back up a little and ask the question "Was Knapp holding up its end of the bargain when it was running a grocery store?"  I think the answer might be no, but frankly, no one took them to task for it while they were open, and if there was anything there, unless it was an illegal act, it's too late to do anything about it now. The system does not have a way to exact punishment from a bad actor who has done nothing illegal other than by allowing them to suffer in the marketplace. In this case, the bad performer is no longer in the marketplace, not in JP or Newton, anyway. Meanwhile, Whole Foods, their replacement, is by reputation and many other metrics, a great performer, not a bad one, an upright citizen by the laws of the land.

Furthermore, the opposition would keep out Whole Foods on the basis, not of its own performance, but on the way other communities changed after other Whole Foods entered into other marketplaces. In other words, protestors would stop Whole Foods from coming based on the way that other people in other communities have behaved, not the way that Whole Foods behaves...again, is that possibly legal? Would anyone want it to be legal?  

I love JP. I love its unique ways and its moral and mental strength, its creativity, its community-first attitude and of course, its diversity. I even love its righteous voice. Like Helen, I also think that Whole Foods is not the best we can do; it is big business with its own imperatives that won’t always jive with JP's.  But I think that the best we can do looks a lot more like Whole Foods than it did Knapp Foods. I think that opposition to Whole Foods puts opposition first and community second. It makes a narrow sector of community the arbiters of morality. It undermines the legal system that protects us all in transactions of private property. We, you, me, the Knapps, Whole Foods, Whose Foods are all equals under the eyes of the law. I urge people to consider that by preventing Whole Foods from benefiting from its lease with Knapp, they are inserting themselves into a private transaction, taking the law into their own hands, like vigilantes. That doesn't inspire confidence in future transactions. As we have seen first hand in the most recent economic crisis, confidence is essential to a healthy economy. Lack of it could sow the seeds that result in the opposite of gentrification...deterioration.  No one wants that. 

Is anyone arguing that there is moral or legal authority to try to keep things from changing?  If so, does anyone want the Knapps to re-open?

I think that the most effective tool the opposition has is to oppose Whole Foods by not shopping there and convincing the community at large that shopping there runs counter to their best interest. That would be a Herculean task that even the opponents of I-95 would have a hard time accomplishing, but if the case is well made and the opposition can last, JP could make it happen, legally, post Whole Foods’ entry.

Jim LaFond-Lewis

Hyde Park

[Editor's note: The writer is also a contributor to JP Patch, where he has, as a reporter, controversy. This letter reflects his opinion.]

Rira March 07, 2011 at 03:09 AM
Brilliant article Jim. I would hate to see the whose fooders drag JP into a frivolous lawsuit for some misguided ideological pursuit that could stretch into decades that would keep that space vacant the entire time. For whatever reason, the Knapp's "Omni" store has been vacant on route 9 in Chestnut Hill for over 10 years and the Whose fooders are wishing that on Hyde square? A long term vacancy such as Knapp's Chestnut Hill 'Omni' vacancy would be the final nail in Hyde Square's coffin and quickly return Hyde Sq to who knows what urban problems and of course a job count of zero rather than the 100 that whole foods promises. The whose Fooders have yet to present 1 single economically viable alternative acceptable to the Knapps that would take occupancy in 30 days and create 100 jobs for Hyde Square residents.
Jeremy McHugh March 07, 2011 at 03:30 PM
I'm not a supporter of the Whose Foods campaign for a number of reasons, and I think you raised some good points in this article Jim. To play devil's advocate a bit, though, let's examine the conclusion that the most appropriate response to the entry of Whole Foods into the local economy is to simply "vote with dollars." For one thing, I think that Whose Foods has raised a number of important issues that are good for the community to discuss, though I disagree with their ultimate objective in this case, of blocking the entry of Whole Foods. Secondly, though, the "voting with dollars" argument seems to fall right in line with the "allow market captialism to work its magic" viewpoint, which in my opinion does not contribute to the real, and valuable discussion that the closing of Hi Lo and entry of Whole Foods has triggered. Simply put, it is just inaccurate to think that "market forces" if undisturbed, will always result in the most efficient and mutually beneficial transactions. In a mature marketplace and economy, equality of information and bargaining power almost never exists, except in rare cases. Zoning and subdivision laws, as well as numerous other urban planing oversight mechanisms, are necessary to ensure a healthy, sound evolution of the urban landscape, encompassing many elements that are integral to the economic infrastructure. In the case of many private transactions, the law requires public notice and debate, as I am sure many on this board are aware.
Jeremy McHugh March 07, 2011 at 03:37 PM
Continued. In the case of the Whole Foods transaction, its not clear yet whether any discretionary permits will be needed before WF can start doing business. For example, I read recently that additional off street parking will be required. So if WF cannot meet that requirement, perhaps they will not be able to open. My point is simply that there are legitimate issues on both sides, and applying an overy simplistic view of they way that urban planning and market capitalism interact, does not really advance the discussion. Specifically, I think that this resistance to Whole Foods presents an opportunity to continue a dialogue between different groups in JP, which in the long term will be beneficial. For me, the rash of murders this past summer is a big concern, as I live close to an epicenter of the violence at Egleston Square. So it is inspirational in a sense, to see the passion that the Whose Foods folks do have for their community, and its a challenge to engage that energy with mutually respectful debate. And for your role in that, Jim, many thanks!
James LaFond-Lewis March 07, 2011 at 04:03 PM
All good points, moving the conversation forward. I hope we get to the licensing issues in the spirit of cooperation and concern for the greater public good.
Pat Roberts March 07, 2011 at 11:41 PM
The Connecticut example is different from this case, though, because in Connecticut, the land had been transferred to public ownership (that is what you said, isn't it?). Here, it's a business relationship between two private parties. So I don't see what basis there would be for the city to step in and take over the property, since it isn't theirs. I am expecting that the anti-Whole Foods people, assisted by the Neighborhood Council, will do everything they can to put roadblocks in the way of Whole Foods at every turn, and that will especially be true in the granting of permits to do anything. In fact, some guy on the Neighborhood Council said that was their plan, or his plan, in one of the earliest of these discussions. Hopefully, the city will ignore them, especially if enough of us communicate our support to our various elected officials.
gretchen van ness March 08, 2011 at 02:36 AM
Thanks to a Hyde Square resident, there is now an easy way to communicate our support. See the new website and petition at www.jpforall.org.
jinjp March 11, 2011 at 06:32 PM
Brilliant analysis. Thank you for organizing and articulating an argument that many of us cannot. I would love to hear your take on the JPNC's actions. It seems to me that they have taken an official anti-Whole-Foods position. But they actually do (as I understand it) have some sway in variances, zoning, and permits. Are they saying that they will now oppose such requests from Whole Foods? If so, something needs to change in our system. If someone, god forbid, sells their home for a profit from now on, can the JPNC now come in and take an official position to disapprove of the transaction because it threatens the affordability of Jamaica Plain? Because I have seen some studies that show that, when some prices go up, that makes some things less affordable for some people!
Rira March 11, 2011 at 06:46 PM
The JPNC and many of the politicians are totally our of touch with reality - nothing would surprise me. All the more reason to get normal people on that council and dilute the moon bat factor.
Alice Phoenix March 11, 2011 at 06:48 PM
Something about the anti-gentrification message has always made me uneasy. It smacks of paternalism.
James LaFond-Lewis March 11, 2011 at 07:01 PM
I support the JPNC's action, primarily as a business partner to the transaction. Every deal, private or public, is a matter of negotiation between and among disparate parties with different goals. Where they all intersect is where the deal is in its sweet spot. The JPNC has staked out some territory which was not available to them before the lease was signed. They have announced that they will be heard, that they are a force to be reckoned with. To their credit, they have leveraged themselves into a reasonably strong position regarding Whole Foods responsibility to the community, while at the same time showing a 9-8 vote that could have tipped the other way if all members were present. JPNC has not done a thing to dissuade Whole Foods, but it has mollified a certain group of people who are skeptical out of the chute. The conversation can continue, all voices will be heard. JPNC has done a good job. Whole Foods is still on track and the yesses are mobilized. Now we should watch the stickier issues. The parking, the trailers coming and going, the traffic, local product investment, (I'd like to see them invest in and expand on the Crop Circles incubator that helps JP grow responsible entrepreneurs). When we get to those issues we might be very happy to have JPNC in there with a community voice preventing corporate carte blanche. I'm no big business apologist, the last time I checked we were still getting burnt by greed. There is always danger.
James LaFond-Lewis March 11, 2011 at 07:27 PM
jinjp, I also want to say thanks for your kind words and to address one of your concerns more directly, namely whether or not this means that the JPNC will oppose WF down the line on permits and licenses as a matter of principle. I think not. When it becomes clear that Whole Foods is going forward, the Council will have to respond to each issue on its merits and its effect on the whole. I expect the Council will recognize the limitations of its power and make such recommendations that do not overstep their influence in the process, otherwise they could become somewhat disenfranchised. Maintaining their voice is a difficult balance. So far I think they have done that.
James LaFond-Lewis March 11, 2011 at 07:32 PM
Moon bat. I wish I could draw the batman spotlight here. We need a superhero! With a black cape!
Raphael March 11, 2011 at 08:35 PM
The history of JP is a history of a cleaved neighborhood. Always had wealthy "gentry" from the early Colonial and then Victorian days. But have had working class laborers and new immigrants nearly as long, the folks who worked in the breweries, ran and staffed the shops on the Dedham Road. I think the root of the strife right now is that a store more appealing to the gentry is locating in the more working class section of town. It's an incursion, an encroachment across class and ethnic lines that folks see as the end of the working class heart of JP. There might well be truth in that fear, but I still would love to have Whole Foods in my neighborhood for the excellent groceries and convenience. We all gotta eat...
James LaFond-Lewis March 11, 2011 at 08:55 PM
To that same point, the Council is an advisory board to the actual licensing and permitting agencies. It does not have any regulatory power of its own. Its voice is all.
Pat Roberts March 11, 2011 at 09:46 PM
James LaFond-Lewis: My understanding of the neighborhood councils is that they were formed to provide a voice for the neighborhoods for issues that go before the various downtown regulatory agencies, such as zoning. I don't believe any of the neighborhood councils have a mandate to make pronouncements on private business transactions. Even the City of Boston doesn't make those pronouncements. It sets up various rules and laws about what kinds of businesses will be permissible in which parts of the city, etc. But as long as a business meets those requirements, it can buy or lease available property and open its doors and take its chances on success or failure. And by making such an inappropriate announcement of disapproval of the opening of a private business, in a private business transaction, the neighborhood council is not announcing that they will be heard, that they are a force to be reckoned with. Instead, they are announcing that they don't understand what their proper role is as a neighborhood council, and that they should henceforth be ignored on all issues concerning this store. I'm curious what you mean about being a business partner to the transaction. Does that mean you are a business partner of the neighborhood council? You are a business partner of Knapp Foods? You are a business partner of Whole Foods?
gretchen van ness March 11, 2011 at 10:11 PM
I think James was saying the the JPNC is a "business partner" with Whole Foods, but even if that's what he meant, Pat's questions are still relevant: exactly how is the Council a "business partner" to a private contract between two private parties? And although I appreciate James' optimism and effort to spin the Council's vote on Tuesday as effective in the long term, in the short term it has done much damage to the Council's credibility. Much more importantly, from my point of view, the Council has alienated and angered many of my JP neighbors and friends for whom the Whole Foods debate was their first experience of attempting to participate in a public debate in JP about an issue that was important to them. James confidently asserts that "the conversation will continue" and "all voices will be heard." Maybe for us battle-hardened veterans of these sorts of disputes. But for a lot of people, it's not worth it.
James LaFond-Lewis March 11, 2011 at 10:14 PM
Hi Pat, Didn't make myself entirely clear...a business deal between two private parties always implies a third party, the public. The community in which it seeks to do business is the implied business partner to the transaction, not me (poorly written). The private parties require public permits and licenses, which are the province of the licensing board, inspectional services and sometimes zoning, although in this case, I don't know which specific bodies WF will need to satisfy. It is as you say, the Council's job to make recommendations in the specific instances. What the council has done, in my opinion, is to tell the people who feared being cut out of the process that their voices will be heard. In so doing, I think the Council has made and continues to make itself an important part of the multitude of voices in this community. The 9-8 vote doesn't bind anyone to do anything, it's a snapshot in time...it really just serves notice that there are groups of people with different opinions about the issue to which Council members are listening. Nothing was stopped or interfered with by that vote. The process will go on with the Council continuing as a relevant and important part of the community voice. cont...
James LaFond-Lewis March 11, 2011 at 10:15 PM
cont... In the end, I predict it will be supporting the entry of WF with recommendations on the particulars that are more indicative of a consensus. This process isn't easy, but to say that the Council is inappropriate and that people have no right to affect the outcome is not the reality I want, and if you've read me carefully, you know that I am by nature a conservative businessman with an economic lean to be conservative, inclined to let the market work, but also inclined to give the public a say in how they feel about the way that the market is working. I think the Council does a pretty good job of that overall. They are letting Whole Foods know that many people in JP are legitimately concerned. I'm not particularly worried about how Whole Foods will behave. But that's just me.
Jeremy McHugh March 11, 2011 at 10:20 PM
Excellent point about the public as implied business partner James. I think you're doing an excellent job of presenting an unbiased view of this transaction.
James LaFond-Lewis March 11, 2011 at 10:30 PM
Gretchen, I hope your neighbors can step back and assess the process and its outcome after the fact before passing judgement on the Council. Can it be improved? Absolutely. Should the disgruntled neighbors try to make the Council more representative? Definitely. In the meantime, what we have is working, even though it isn't perfect. After this, your neighbors' first experience is unlikely to be their last. They're going to "win" and that will probably energize them. They will become the battle-hardened veterans.
jljp March 11, 2011 at 10:57 PM
Great Progress to report! I just received an email from the Boston City Council President in regards to the petition generated through www.JPforALL.org See below: Thank you for your email regarding Whole Foods moving into the former location of Hi-Lo Foods in Jamaica Plain. While it is understandable that there are concerns over Hi-Lo closing and Whole Foods moving in, I believer the move of Whole Foods to the neighborhood is a good one. Much like Jamaica Plain, Whole Foods is stocked with diversity and I believe that what the neighborhood loves so much about Hi-Lo will also be found at Whole Foods. Again, I thank you for contacting me to share your feelings on this issue. Please let me know if I can be of further assistance. Regards, Boston City Council President Stephen J. Murphy
Pat Roberts March 11, 2011 at 11:07 PM
James LaFond-Lewis: Having the neighborhood council make a pronouncement about whether a store should open its doors in JP is like having the downtown Zoning Board of Appeals make such a pronouncement--inappropriate. The neighborhood council was set up to tell the city agencies what JP residents thought about specific things, like permits, zoning variances, etc. So when one of those things is desired by a business, that business goes before the neighborhood council before it goes to the relevant downtown agency. The neighborhood council has a specific role of passing along information to city agencies. If the neighborhood council wants to change its job description to pronouncement-making (and become totally irrelevant), maybe they could do so. But right now, they have a different role. For the neighborhood council to to make blanket pronouncements on whether a business can open here, and then to plan to make recommendations about whether that same business should be granted a permit or zoning variance, is a conflict of interest. If the neighborhood council wants to exist at all, it should confine itself to the tasks it was set up to do. And I do think they should plan to recuse themselves when any Whole Foods issues come before them, since it will clearly be impossible for them to make an impartial assessment of a request when they have taken a stand against the business from the beginning.
James LaFond-Lewis March 11, 2011 at 11:23 PM
I hope they don't recuse themselves but continue to hold meetings and take the public's pulse. Let them get it right. It would have been far worse for them NOT to give an accounting of where they stand and then shoot down permits, etc. based on misconceptions. I think this is a very difficult issue to assess so that before it gets to any substantive issues the Council needs to report back to the community what its impressions are of the community's voice so that the community can then speak again, letting the Council know its more representative mind. It's a feedback loop. I think that's what's been happening.
Maura March 12, 2011 at 01:34 AM
James, a question...what's your blood pressure? Like 90 over 60? You sound like a very patient person. I'm jsut sayin'.
erniebee March 14, 2011 at 10:30 AM
progress is good and inevitable. a capitalist system is modeled on success, not atrophy, or nostalgia. naturally, a popular new business will bring crowds, and attendant consequences. it will also bring much-needed employment, generous benefits, and wholesome food– responsibly produced– to tens of thousands each week. if you are offended by WF's presence, you've got stop & shop on one end of JP and harvest on the other. with all the truly serious problems in our country and the world needing our energy and creative thought right now, this one seems so...not.
David Hannon March 14, 2011 at 12:39 PM
"With all the truly serious problems in our country and the world needing our energy and creative thought right now, this one seems so...not." I so agree.
Raphael March 14, 2011 at 01:41 PM
I moved to Boston from western NY 11 years ago and I've constantly been struck by how virtually all change is met with resistance in this town. Where I come from, if someone proposed a new mixed use apartment tower/retail building (for example), they'd throw you a parade. But not here. You're guaranteed to face a crowd of angry people who are upset about the shadow the proposed building would cast. Same goes with Whole Foods. So much to like -- except that it's new. I shouldn't even mention shadows because now someone is going to complain about that too.
James LaFond-Lewis March 14, 2011 at 02:08 PM
@erniebee It's the definition of success that is contentious here. Progress should be thoughtfully embraced and the attendant ramifications of "build it and they will come" are always a concern. I don't think that national chains, jobs or not, are always bad or always good. In this particular case, I am happy to support WF entry into the market, but I can easily imagine being on the other side of a similar debate somewhere down the line. And I can imagine being in the minority, opposing what good the national chain brings because of my perception of the degree of loss. I cannot dismiss the opponents of WF, they are grieving a loss while believing they are personally threatened. They have something to get over. I trust they will after WF moves in.
Rira March 14, 2011 at 02:30 PM
MIXED MESSAGES TO INNER CITY YOUTH Inner city families are striving more each year for a better life for their kids. Yesterday's Globe showed the intense competition for coveted spots in charter schools. Yet, there are those who would then say to urban youth - 'After graduation, we do not want you to strive for more. Work really hard as a kid, reach for the American dream, hard work and you will get you ahead - but at 18, STOP - we dont like adults to work hard, just kids/youth who then stop at 18. Working hard in school, might mean as you become an adult improving your neighborhood, buying a home, fixing it up, increasing it's value - improving/'gentrifying' your community then helping out mom, dad, your siblings and grand parents and building bridges to others who are different from you. Once you graduate we do not want you to want to keep on reaching for more, getting a good job ("JP is not for rich people" a now infamous quote) and closing the achievement gap. Do not bring the fruits of achievement back to your inner city community. After you have achieved so much as a youth - stop achieving as you attain adulthood - once you have begun to close the achievement gap - then open it back up. We want an achievement gap pendulum that closes and opens again! We want Hyde Sq to be a permanent ungentrified symbol of the achievement gap. We strive to give our youth conflicting messages! The committee opposed to gentrification that celebrates mixed messages to youth!
Rira March 14, 2011 at 02:42 PM
OR - for those who DO want more and DO want to keep on achieving - they do not want to come back to rough around the edges Hyde Sq - as I think is it Arroyo or Sanchez - who moved up and out of Hyde sq to Moss Hill ?? - perhaps if Hyde Sq was a prettier and gentrified - Arroyo or Sanchez might have stayed - in any event - it looks soooo bad that he does not even live in Hyde Sq but is telling us what to do - as he lives in pretty Moss Hill - a tad hypocritical? ( we're sure he has a great packaged answer all set to reply to that elephant in the room) At least Chuck Turner stayed in his neighborhood!


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