June 7, 2011
Jamaica Plain, BOSTON — When Whole Foods announced in January it was moving into the Hi-Lo Foods supermarket in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood, it was met with a firestorm of criticism, igniting a debate over gentrification and business rights. Six months later, the conversation continues — and in some ways, it’s only gotten louder.
Tempers flared at the Curley Elementary school in Jamaica Plain last week when a public forum to discuss the impending arrival of a Whole Foods Supermarket was interrupted by chants of “No Whole Foods! No Whole Foods!”
Police arrested three protestors.
It was Whole Foods’ first since announcing they’ll be moving into Hi-Lo’s old digs. With its bright colors and funky, eclectic vibe, Hi-Lo looks more like a bowling alley than a grocery store. But for the past 47 years, the bodega has anchored Boston’s Spanish community as one of the only places selling authentic Latin American food.
Jamaica Plain resident Daniel Cevallos says he buys certain kinds of meat and cheeses there. “I don’t know how they import them, but you can find them here and you can’t find them anywhere else,” Cevallos said.
Besides specialty foods, Hi-Lo was known for its lower prices. But back in January, the Knapp family, which owned Hi-Lo and the property in which it resides, announced they were closing the Hi-Lo and leasing the space to a Whole Foods. The switch has left the community divided. Opponents say replacing the discounted Hi-Lo with a pricey alternative isn’t a good fit for the community.
“I love Whole Foods, don’t get me wrong. But I don’t think it’s the best place for it. I’m sure it’s going to make all the property worth more, but it’s not going to do anything for the people who have trouble eating,” said one JP resident who didn’t want to give his name.
Others, like Jonny Delacrus Santana, worry about where they’ll find authentic Latin American food. “Hi-Lo is very important for the people Hispanic,” Santana says through a heavy Spanish accent. “They have a lot of food from the Caribbean; it’s very important.”
Meanwhile, construction at the site moves on.
Rick Stockwood is the founder of JP for All, a group supporting Whole Foods arrival to the neighborhood. He says the grocery chain has been up front with their plans and has been trying to meet the demands of the community.
“They’re trying to be a good neighbor by keeping the murals, keeping the clock, they’ve already addressed the issue about snow removal and the bus stop and all these other things most other companies wouldn’t have dealt with,” Stockwood says.
Plus, he adds, the deal between Whole Foods and Hi-Lo is a private business matter, and that while Whole Foods should address the communities concerns over parking and traffic, it’s unfair that the grocery chain has been singled out.
“Labeling one business and treating them completely different than any other business that wants to operate in JP, it’s not appropriate,” Stockwood said.
Boston City Councilor Matt O’Malley agrees, saying Whole Foods has gone above and beyond the call of duty and is working with the community to identify ways in which it can be a good neighbor.
“The Curley School, Whole Foods is putting in a full salad bar there for this school year for free,” says O’Malley. “Representative Liz Malia has been running a hot dog night at the South Street housing development for the past 15 years. This year Whole Foods is going to help donate food, fruit and vegetables.”
Whole Foods is expected to open this fall.
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