Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot says she is concerned for workers affected by Whole Foods’ decision to close two locations in the city, including one in a low-income area considered a food wasteland.
Whole Foods confirmed Newsweek On Friday, it was closing six stores nationwide, including the two in Chicago. The grocery chain said it is working to help store workers land on their feet. But Lightfoot and residents are particularly concerned about the impact of the closure of Whole Foods in a Chicago South Side neighborhood that opened six years ago and promised to economically revitalize the neighborhood.
Lightfoot said in a statement Friday that Amazon, Whole Foods’ parent company, “must now take clear action to protect these workers as they transition to new opportunities.”
“Having been to both of these stores many times over the years, I have seen firsthand how these workers gave their hearts and souls to make these stores a success,” Lightfoot said. “Working with communities and local elected officials, my administration will work to repurpose these places in a way that continues to serve the community and support surrounding businesses.”
She said the city will seek to shut down food deserts, areas with limited access to affordable, nutritious foods often found in poor areas.
The Whole Foods in the Englewood neighborhood on the city’s south side opened in September 2016. Then-mayor Rahm Emanuel lured the upmarket grocer to the area with a $10 million tax incentive dollars to help address neighborhood food accessibility issues, according to the City Bureau.
Census figures show that 40% of residents living in the ZIP code that includes the Englewood neighborhood live below the poverty line, more than double the rate for the metropolitan area.
Emanuel trumpeted the opening of the 18,000 square foot store, touting how it would create 100 jobs and include products from more than 35 suppliers while opening “the doors to a new future for the Englewood community”.
Asiaha Butler, CEO of the Resident Association of Greater Englewood, told ABC affiliate WLS-TV Chicago that the store’s closure is “a devastating blow to our community.”
“We knew it wasn’t a store that was supposed to make a lot of profit,” Butler told the station. “We are in food apartheid here and it was a corporate responsibility decision that was made.”
A Whole Foods spokesperson said Newsweek in an email that the grocer will also close stores in Montgomery and Mobile, Alabama. Additionally, it will close stores in Tarzana, California, and Brookline, Massachusetts. Chicago’s other closure location is near DePaul University in the city’s North Side area.
The company spokesperson added that Whole Foods expects all interested and eligible workers to find positions at other Whole Foods stores. Those who do not accept a position at another store will be offered severance pay, the spokesperson said.
“As we continue to position Whole Foods Market for long-term success, we regularly assess the performance and growth potential of each of our stores, and have made the difficult decision to close six stores,” the company said. in a press release. “We are supporting affected team members through this transition and expect all interested and eligible team members to find positions at our other locations.”