The Chicago Tribune reports that Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has described Amazon-owned Whole Foods as "not a good partner, period" for its closure of a once highly touted store in the city's Englewood neighborhood.
The store was originally opened six year ago, subsidized with $10.7 million in city money, and lauded for being part of Chicago's South Side, serving one of the city's most economically depressed areas. The tribune noted this week that "the company closed five other stores across the country 'to position Whole Foods Market for long-term success' at the time, including a location near DePaul. It also opened an almost 66,000-square foot location in the Near North neighborhood the same week."
In her comments, Lightfoot said that Whole Foods has "not collaborated. They have not come to the table. We know who they are."
The Tribune writes that "the mayor made those comments ahead of a unanimous City Council vote to grant $13.5 million in tax-increment money to private developers to reopen a Save-A-Lot in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood and rehabilitate five other Save-A-Lots on the South and West sides.
"Lightfoot decried the lack of grocery options on the South and West sides as a 'historic wrong.'
"'The problem of food deserts in our city is real, and, unfortunately, it has persisted for far too long,' she said.
"She then gave shoutouts to a variety of grocery stores that operate throughout Chicago’s disinvested neighborhoods … The city announced the $13.5 million grant to Yellow Banana this summer. The company, which is owned by Cleveland-based investment firm 127 Wall Holdings LLC, said it planned to use the money to reopen the Auburn Gresham location that has been closed since 2020. It also plans to acquire and upgrade the five other stores, which Yellow Banana has operated since 2021 but does not own.
"The city funding awarded to Yellow Banana comes after a spate of grocery store closures on the South and West sides, frustrating residents and elected officials who say grocery companies are leaving residents without sufficient access to healthy and affordable foods."
Lightfoot also used the moment to criticize Aldi, which "closed a store in Auburn Gresham in June … Lightfoot criticized the company this summer, saying Aldi should be 'ashamed.'
"'Aldi’s, hear me loud and clear,' Lightfoot said. 'Come to the table and talk and work with us, or there are going to be major challenges for you in the city of Chicago'."
- KC's View:
At some level, everybody is doing their jobs here. Lightfoot's job is to find ways to bring food stores to Chicago's food deserts. Whole Foods' job is to position the company for the highest levels of growth and profitability (and do so at the moment in an internal climate of cost cutting).
It simply may be that Whole Foods was all wrong for a food desert, and that formats like Save-A-Lot are going to be more successful.
I continue to think, though, that it may be a lost opportunity for Amazon/Whole Foods, which has enough resources to have been able to find a way to change the lives of people who need better food shopping options.
As or threatening Aldi, I'm not sure that's helpful. But, on the other hand, maybe that's just the Chicago way.