Yesterday, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel announced impoverished city of Englewood will receive a Whole Foods. It almost sounds counterintuitive for a supermarket that caters to white, upper middle-class folks to invest in a city where the median income is just under 12,000 per year.
But mayor Emanuel wants to revitalize this predominately black suburb of Chicago — which is also a food desert and, according to a local report, a supermarket deathtrap. According to Chicago Now, these sort of pronouncements come a dime a dozen, with hopes and promises dashed before any ground is broken:
“Jewel Foods would build a state of art store at the corner of 63rd Halsted … Jewel Food store was never built. After years of sitting vacant the site was submitted to Walmart but they passed and several other retailers have been asked to look at the site but all have passed.”
So why would Whole Foods take such a huge risk? Well, first, the mayor granted the Whole Foods developer a 10 million TIF subsidy, making this move an initially safe gamble.
Secondly, although many students and Englewood residents voiced their concern over what they said was an “expensive store” that’s “not really inviting,” Whole Foods Midwest president, Michael Bashaw, claimed that its smaller stores worked well in depressed neighborhoods because the locals have “aspirational desires.”
Mayor Emanuel surely has high hopes for this neighborhood, and from the sounds of Whole Foods executives, this will be the first step in a long line of moves to gentrify Englewood. And as we have seen in New Orleans, Watts, and Harlem, gentrification means demographic changes and, tragically, an uprooting of longstanding cultural and community interconnectivity.