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What was originally a local neighborhood issue, has now become a hot political potato for residents of Jamaica Plain in Boston. When The Boston Herald published the news in January that a new Whole Foods would be replacing the revered Latino Hi-Lo supermarket, few would have thought that it would cause a hornet’s nest. And that controversy, which at times has reached a level of anger and frustration, took another turn yesterday on Facebook, where a new site to fire Massachusetts state senator Sonia Chang-Díaz was formed.

Called FIRE SONIA CHANG-DIAZ, the page lists its mission as follows:

The ‘Fire Sonia Chang-Diaz’ page was created to serve as platform for residents of the Second Suffolk Massachusetts State Senate District to voice their opposition against State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz and her recent anti-business statements.We are a multicultural, intergenerational group of 2nd Suffolk residents and natives who care deeply about the future of the neighborhood and who want to be able to live, work, and raise families here. We are working to stop State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz from creating an anti-business climate in the 2nd Suffolk District. We are not against Sonia Chang-Diaz or anyone who supports her; we are against an anti-business climate in the 2nd Suffolk District.

This powerful campaign is solely the result of the volunteer effort of a grassroots group of folks with no organizational budget or funding from outside organizations, but with limitless passion for what makes a great business community.

The site has 59 LIKES as of this morning, and makes mention of the fact that Senator Chang-Diaz’s public letter to the JP Neighborhood Council was pulled down from her main website.

Massachusetts State Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz

Other comments on the Facebook page expressed anger towards the senator’s position:

“Well, Sonia Chang you might have removed the letter from your web page.. But it’s everywhere, DEMANDING… your political demise. I’m sure voters will remember this”

“Thanks to everyone who has “Liked” this page. We have some great momentum behind us now! It is interesting to note that Sen. Chang-Diaz’s letter to the JPNC regarding Whole Foods is absent from the senators website. She’s quick to post that the Phoenix named her Boston’s Best Local Politician however; there’s no mention of firestorm she stepped into with her position on Whole Foods. Keep spreading the word!”

“Like a true politician, throw the stone and hide the hand. Well we and many others know the truth. We should demand an explanation…. If not an apology from her…”

“JP residents need to start looking NOW for a serious candidate to run against this woman. She does not represent the majority by any means.”

“Thanks for the “Likes” everyone. Were only just getting started. Sen. Chang-Diaz may be breathing a sigh of relief knowing that Osama Bin Laden is going to dominate the news cycle for the days to come but, voters have long memories and we are not going to forget the statements our state senator has made. Keep spreading the word!!!”

“I don’t live in JP but what she’s doing is ridiculous. She is just like all the other politicians on Beacon Hill. Useless.”

“I had previously always been a fan of Sonia Chang-Diaz, but this populist, nonsensical approach is paramount to her asking for payoffs to “protect” a business. Kinda like the mob. And I am a member of the ad-hoc committee.”

“What a sad sad state of affairs. Why not address crime, safety and education?”

“Senator Chang-Diaz demands fund or business can’t open in JP. Someone isn’t in touch with its constituency.”

We did contact the Senator’s office this morning to get a statement, but they have not responded yet. Once we get a statement, we will share.

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The Spanish "¿Y pa' quién?" means "And for who?"

A group opposed to the new Whole Foods store scheduled to be built in the Hyde Square section of Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood has recently launched a new web page to promote their message against urban gentrification. The group, called Whose Foods?, has created WhoseFoods.org. The site contains videos in English and Spanish from JP residents who oppose the new Whole Foods store, which is taking over the location where the Hi-Lo Latino market used to stand for the last 37 years.

According to its bilingual website, the group is “a multicultural, multigenerational group of Jamaican Plain residents and allies working together for a better JP.” It has listed three mission statements, and it is inviting anyone interested in this issue to speak out. The statements are as follow:

  • Against: a Whole Foods in Jamaica Plain and against the continued gentrification of JP”
  • For: a locally‐owned business that serves low and moderate income families in JP and beyond”
  • For: strengthening JP’s cultural, racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity”

On Monday evening, February 28, JP will be active, as a Rally for an Affordable and Diverse JP is being planned for 6 pm at Mozart Park. At 7 pm, the JP Neighborhood Council will hold its second neighborhood forum at the Kennedy School regarding this issue. At the council’s first forum on February 7, an overwhelming majority of JP residents opposed the new Whole Foods.

Tomorrow’s forum should be more balanced, since some pro-Whole Foods groups have also been formed, primarily on Facebook. We Are All Whole Foods, formed by JP resident and social media professional Steve Garfield, is perhaps the most active one. It currently has 129 fans, compared to Whose Foods? and their 348 fans. The majority of comments on We Are Al Whole Foods are more pro-Whole Foods. For example, one JP Resident posted the following about the Whose Foods? videos:

Watching the videos on “Whose Foods, Whose Community” I see a distinct lack of diversity, and nothing but opinion full of unsupported if/then statements being made. E.g. If Whole Foods moves in, then rents will increase. If WF moves in, Latinos can’t afford food. If WF moves in, there will be no more diversity in JP. If WF moves in, Latinos won’t be able to find the foods they need for cooking native dishes. What? It strikes me that the underlying motive is really “keep Hyde Square Latino.” Where are the Anglo voices on their site? The Afro voices? The actual diversity of JP which spans cultures and income ranges?

As for an official statement from Whole Foods, we have contacted the Whole Foods Northeast office for comment several times, but they have not responded to us.

Boston politicians have also been contacted to comment about this issue, but except comments from City Councillors Ayanna Pressley and Matt O’Malley, other leaders have not returned our calls or emails for comments. These include Boston Mayor Tom Menino, State Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz, State Representative Jeffrey Sánchez, and Councillor Felix Arroyo. If we do hear from any of these elected officials, we will post their statements.

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Estimados residentes de Jamaica Plain:

Nos complace informar que próximamente abriremos una tienda de Whole Foods Market en Centre Street. Nos hemos reunido con los funcionarios de gobierno de la ciudad y hemos estado al pendiente de la cobertura informativa en los medios de comunicación, por lo que sabemos que aunque muchos de ustedes están emocionados por la próxima apertura de nuestra tienda en Jamaica Plain, también existen muchas dudas e inquietudes. Como presidenta regional de Whole Foods Market, quiero aprovechar esta oportunidad para enviarles lo que será el primero de muchos comunicados que espero sirvan para aclarar sus dudas e inquietudes.

ESTO ES LO QUE PASÓ: Cuando nos enteramos de que los propietarios de Knapp Foods pensaban cerrar Hi-Lo Foods y que el edificio quedaría desocupado, decidimos aprovechar la oportunidad de formar parte de un vecindario tan diverso y apasionado por la buena comida. Sin embargo, antes de firmar el contrato de arrendamiento, los medios de comunicación tuvieron conocimiento de la noticia y esto generó mucha información falsa. Nos sentimos enormemente decepcionados de que ustedes no hayan recibido esta información de una manera más respetuosa y organizada. Idealmente nos hubiera gustado tener la oportunidad de dialogar con los funcionarios de gobierno de la ciudad y los representantes de la comunidad antes de dar a conocer esta noticia, de acuerdo con nuestras políticas estándar.

Comenzaremos con nuestros planes de diseño tan pronto como tengamos acceso al edificio a finales de marzo. Aunque el interior del edificio requiere de una renovación extensa, no tenemos planes de cambiar la estructura del edificio ni las características exteriores que son tan importantes para la comunidad; el mural, el toldo y el reloj permanecerán intactos.

EMPLEADOS DE HI-LO: Comprendemos y apreciamos su preocupación por el futuro de los empleados de Hi-Lo. Ya hemos contratado a varios empleados de Hi-Lo en nuestras tiendas y estamos trabajando junto con la oficina de desempleo local para informar a los demás empleados que Whole Foods Market les garantiza una entrevista de trabajo prioritaria en cualquiera de nuestras tiendas e instalaciones.

NUEVAS CONTRATACIONES: Una vez que hayamos comenzado con las renovaciones y tengamos una fecha de apertura definida, llevaremos a cabo entrevistas de trabajo en la tienda que estará abierta al público, esto de acuerdo con nuestras prácticas estándar. Nuestra intención es contratar a cerca de 100 Miembros del Equipo y aproximadamente un 70% de estos puestos serán de tiempo completo y con beneficios.

OFERTA DE PRODUCTOS: Creemos que todas las personas tienen el derecho de disfrutar de alimentos económicos y de alta calidad, sin aditivos e ingredientes artificiales. Esto incluye una amplia variedad de productos latinos. Al igual que en el resto de nuestras tiendas, ofreceremos productos que satisfagan las diversas necesidades de la comunidad. Si nuestros clientes expresan su interés por algún producto específico y dicho producto cumple con nuestros estándares de calidad, lo ofreceremos en nuestras tiendas.

NUESTRO APOYO A LA COMUNIDAD: Nos tomamos muy en serio la responsabilidad de ser un buen socio comunitario. Deseamos demostrar nuestro apoyo y compromiso con las maravillosas organizaciones que conforman la estructura de la comunidad de Jamaica Plain. Nuestra compañía tiene la política de devolver un 5% a las comunidades locales a través de las organizaciones altruistas y los grupos educativos y comunitarios.

Cuando concretemos nuestros planes para la tienda, realizaremos reuniones comunitarias para responder a todas sus preguntas. Tenemos la intención de ser un miembro productivo y positivo de la comunidad de Jamaica Plain y queremos ofrecer a todos los residentes alimentos de alta calidad a un valor excepcional, además de un excelente servicio al cliente. Sabemos que únicamente podremos demostrarles nuestro compromiso a través de nuestras acciones.

Atentamente,

Laura Derba

Presidenta, Región del Norte del Atlántico
Whole Foods Market

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Dear Residents of Jamaica Plain,

We are very pleased to be opening a Whole Foods Market on Centre Street. We have met with city officials and followed the media coverage so we understand that while many of you are excited that we’re coming to JP, there are also a number of concerns and questions. As the regional president of Whole Foods Market, I want to take this opportunity to have what will be the first of many communications that I hope will serve to clarify several issues and ease your concerns.

HERE’S WHAT HAPPENED: When we learned that the aging ownership at Knapp Foods was closing Hi-Lo Foods and making the lease available, we jumped at the chance to be a part of such a diverse, neighborhood with a passion for great food. Prior to signing the lease, however, the news was leaked to the media, along with a lot of false information.  We were enormously disappointed that you were not informed in a more respectful and organized manner.  Ideally, we would have had the opportunity to communicate with city and neighborhood officials prior to our announcement, as is our standard policy.

Our design plans will begin when we gain access to the building in late March. While the interior requires extensive renovations, we have absolutely no plans to change the structure of the building or the exterior features that are so important to the community -– the mural, the awning and the clock – will all remain intact.

HI-LO STAFF: We understand and appreciate your concerns for the future of Hi-Lo’s staff. We have already hired several Hi-Lo employees in our stores, and we are working with the local unemployment office to make sure that the remaining employees know that Whole Foods Market is guaranteeing them priority interviews at any of our store locations and facilities.

NEW HIRING: Once renovations are underway and we have an opening date set, we will be holding job screenings at the store location that will be open to the public, as is our standard practice. We plan to hire around 100 Team Members—approximately 70% of those positions will be full-time with benefits.

PRODUCT OFFERINGS: We believe that everyone has the right to have access to affordable, high quality, clean food free of artificial ingredients and additives. This includes carrying a wide variety of Latino products. As with all of our stores, we will carry products that cater to the diverse demands of the community. If shoppers express interest in a product and it meets our quality standards, we will carry it.

YOUR COMMUNITY MARKET: Being a community partner is a responsibility we take very seriously. We are eager to show our support and commitment to the wonderful organizations that make up the fabric of the JP neighborhood. As a company we give 5% back to our local communities through non-profit organizations and community and education groups.

When we solidify our plan for the store, we will host community meetings to answer all of your questions. Please know that our intentions are to be productive and positive members of the JP community and to provide you with high quality food and exceptional customer service at great value. We understand that we will only be able to prove our commitment to you with our actions.

Sincerely,

Laura Derba
President – North Atlantic Region
Whole Foods Market

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In light of the Jamaican Plain Community meeting last Tuesday, where the overwhelming majority of attendees opposed the new Whole Foods store in the neighborhood, Whole Foods spokesperson Heather McCready confirmed to us via email today that Whole Foods plans to respond to the residents’ comments “early next week.” As McCready told us:

The statement from our regional president will be available by early next week. We are unable to issue any statements beyond that at this time.

We also requested an interview with Whole Foods executives, but have yet to get a formal response. As for other developments in this story, we reported a statement from Boston City Councillor Ayanna Pressley yesterday about the new Whole Foods store replacing the HI LO supermarket in the neighborhood. The HI LO, which has been a fabric of Boston’s Latino community for over three decades, has closed and will be replaced by a new Whole Foods store.

Whole Foods Facebook Pages Launch

Social media will be playing a role in this story, as @stevegarfield of Boston has launched a pro-Whole Foods Facebook Fan Page called We Are All Whole Foods. The purpose of the page is to offer positive news about Whole Foods as company and as a benefit to the JP community. Garfield, a Boston social media influencer, has been actively promoting this page to his social media network. Last night, Garfield tweeted the following comment about gentrification: “.@mrchrisallen “Gentrification brings in Yuppies, but it stops shootings.: #jpub”

According to Universal Hub, Jamaican Plain, a neighborhood going through typical transitions that occur in major urban neighborhoods, has witnessed nine shootings in the neighborhood in the last year, with two of those shootings results in homicides.

In the meantime, another Facebook page called Whole Foods: Listen to JP, launched today as a place where residents and other interested parties can provide comments about Whole Foods’ plans. It will also offer links to news articles about the story.

JRV.com is committed to provide coverage on this blog. We did reach out to all Boston politicians with an interest in this story, including Mayor Tom Menino, State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, State Representative Jeffrey Sánchez, Boston City Councillor Felix Arroyo, Boston City Councillor Matt O’Malley, and Boston Councillor Pressley. So far, only Councillor Pressley has released a statement about the story.

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At Large City Councillor Ayanna Pressley

Today, At Large Boston City Councillor Ayanna Pressley released a statement regarding the arrival of Whole Foods to the Boston neighborhood of Jamaica Plain. Last Tuesday, Councillor Pressley attended the Jamaican Plan Community Meeting, where the overwhelming majority of residents, mostly Latino, expressed their concerns and opposition to Whole Foods, which will be opening a new store in the former location of the HI LO supermarket, a venerable Boston Latino institution.

Here is Councillor Pressley’s statement:

 

I have two primary concerns around Whole Foods opening in the former site of Hi Lo. My first concern, and this is the most pressing at this time, is supporting the laid off Hi Lo workers. As is too often the case, the fired Hi Lo workers were given little or no warning and left to fend for themselves. That is bad enough but in these challenging economic times, it’s unconscionable.

I’m encouraged by reports of Whole Foods giving priority to interviewing, and potentially hiring, the former Hi Lo workers. But rents, mortgages, electricity bills, prescription costs don’t suddenly pause when you’re laid off. It’s critical that we’re doing everything we can at the City level to support the workers and get them back to work.

My second concern is the impact of Whole Foods on the Jamaica Plain community and whether it can adequately serve Latino and Caribbean residents as Hi Lo did. It’s important Boston is open for business and that we’re not reflexively saying no to any new business or development.

But new businesses and new developments should provide benefits to their new communities and new neighbors. I expect Whole Foods to be open to seriously listening to the Jamaica Plain community and addressing their concerns. From what they stock and sell, to the design of the store, to mitigating possible traffic and parking issues, Whole Foods has a responsibility to be a good community partner.

 

You can contact Councillor Pressley here: Councillor Pressley.


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