On Chicago’s South Side, Whole Foods project still a work in progress

Whole Foods has made progress on promises at a Chicago store, but says there’s work to be done to better connect with shoppers on a tight budget who may be unfamiliar with organic products.

CHICAGO — About one year ago, the doors of a Whole Foods Market swung open in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood, marking the culmination of a bold plan to open an upscale grocery store in one of the city’s most challenged areas.

No “mission accomplished” banner has yet been hoisted.

Whole Foods — anchor of the city-subsidized Englewood Square development — has made good on promises of providing jobs, supporting local vendors and boosting healthful food options. The store has, for some, improved quality of life and perhaps even paved the way for future large-scale investment in Englewood.

But Whole Foods acknowledges there’s still much work to be done, particularly in connecting with shoppers on a tight budget who may be unfamiliar with natural and organic products. And the mostly black neighborhood’s well-documented struggles of poverty and crime, exacerbated by lack of economic development, remain steep challenges for business.

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As the hype has died down, some questions still linger: Will it work? Will the South Side community support the store?

“That’s something we’re still finding out from week to week,” said Michael Bashaw, Whole Foods Midwest region president. “People will make their choices and in the end, the businesses that reach out to the community and try to meet their needs are the ones that will survive.”

Whole Foods doesn’t disclose sales or profits for individual stores. Bashaw also wouldn’t say how the Englewood store performed in comparison to other Whole Foods locations in the city, but said the store is matching expectations specific to Englewood.

“Certainly we’re a company, and companies evaluate their business all the…

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