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Dear Jamaica Plain Residents,

We’re excited to say that we’ve received the keys to 415 Centre Street, and our renovations are under way. As I promised in my last letter, I want to share with you our latest developments. We’ve received hundreds of calls and emails from people expressing their support and enthusiasm about our upcoming store opening, which we greatly appreciate.

Store Update:
We are currently completing our demolition phase inside the building and finalizing our design plans.  As previously stated, we will not be making any changes to the structure of the building or to exterior features that make the building so unique. However the interior of the building requires extensive work in order to bring it up to code. This process will likely take up to six months, so we anticipate a fall opening date. To stay up to date on the progress, follow us on Twitter at @WFM_JP. We already have over 270 followers!

Perhaps our most exciting update is that we have hired the leadership team for the store.  I’m proud to introduce Mike Walker and Wanda Hernandez as the Store Team Leader and Associate Store Team Leader of the JP store. Mike has been a Whole Foods Market team member since 1994, most recently as the Store Team Leader of our Symphony store. Wanda has been with Whole Foods Market since 2005, most recently as the Associate Store Team Leader in our Wellesley location. Mike and Wanda both have ties to the Jamaica Plain area, and share a great vision for creating a community market that becomes an integral and seamless part of the neighborhood.

Your Community Market:

We’ve been inspired by the great showing of community involvement that we’ve witnessed in the past few months. It is wonderful to be part of a community that cares so deeply about what’s happening in their neighborhood! I’d like to share with you some exciting updates on our community partnerships:

–          Supporting Local Organizations: Just last month, our Brighton and Symphony stores raised over $8,500 for the Hyde Square Task Force during a 5 % Day, thanks to the amazing support of the community! We will hold 5 % Days to support local nonprofit organizations quarterly.

–          Healthy Food in Schools: The Boston Latin School will be the first school in the city of Boston to launch their salad bar funded through our Salad Bar Project initiative. From there, we will extend the program to the Curley K-8 School, where we plan to donate another salad bar to help encourage healthier lunch options through access to fresh fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains.

–          Local Growers and Producers: This summer, we are hoping to host farmers’ markets in our parking lot so that local growers and producers can have a place to sell their food free of charge.  Once we officially open our doors, we will also try to support these local producers and many others by carrying as many local products as we can.

Town Hall Meeting:

As promised, we will hold our Town Hall Meeting on Thursday, June 2nd at the Curley K-8 School from 7:00 – 8:30 pm. We are looking forward to formally introducing ourselves and our store leadership team, as well as presenting our plans for the store. There will also be a 30 minute Q&A period that will give community members an opportunity to ask questions about the store, as well as making suggestions of ways we can best serve as Jamaica Plain’s neighborhood’s community market.

Product Offerings:

We are looking to you to tell us what products you would like to see in the store. Our buyers are working diligently to stock a wide range of products that meet our strict quality standards. We want to hear from you! We’ve created an email address, JP_Products@wholefoods.com, and we will be handing out self addressed post cards at our Town Hall Meeting so that the JP community can tell us what products you’d like to see on our shelves.

Hiring:

As we proceed with renovations and get a clearer idea of when we will open, we will begin the hiring process for the store. We will be conducting interviews from a trailer on the store’s property. We plan to hire around 100 team members (approximately 70 full-time, 30 part-time) and hope that many of them will be from the local JP community. More information on becoming a Whole Foods Market team member will be available at the community meeting.

We look forward to the meeting on June 2nd. We are eager to introduce ourselves and share with you what Whole Foods Market is all about!

Kind regards,

Laura Derba

North Atlantic Regional President

Whole Foods Market

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The following statement was sent to us from Laura Derba, President of North Atlantic region of Whole Foods. Derba was sent the following questions, but instead issued the statement. Here are the questions we asked:

  • When do you expect the new store to open?
  • What do you think of the two public letters written to the JP Neighborhood Council by Senator Chang-Díaz and Councillor Arroyo? Do you agree with all the recommendations they mention?
  • Will Whole Foods guarantee that cultural food staples from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and other countries of Latin America be stocked in the Hyde Square store?
  • Is Whole Foods committed to the development of a more robust Latin Quarter in Hyde Square? If so, what plans do you have to make this is a reality?
  • How many ex-Hi Lo employees have you hired to work in other Whole Food Locations? How many positions do you expect to have open in the Hyde Square location?

Here is what we received:

We are aware of the avid discussion in the community and online regarding the recent letters issued by Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz and City Councilor Felix Arroyo to the Ad-Hoc Committee on Whole Foods of the JP Neighborhood Council, and we genuinely appreciate the passionate interest. It’s exciting to be a part of a community that cares so much about what is happening in their neighborhood and we look forward to building positive partnerships when we open this fall.

We look forward to introducing ourselves to the neighborhood later this month at our first Town Hall meeting where we hope we can underscore our commitment to the community—that we are active community partners on a daily basis. From 5 % Days, food donations, event and sporting team sponsorships and community clean up days with Team Members, we strive to support the local community, economy and businesses. Giving back, acting as trusted partner and being a good neighbor supports our core values as a company and we look forward to proving ourselves as a positive community partner to JP residents. I’ll be providing additional information including the date of our Town Hall meeting in my second letter to the community, which will go out next week.

–Laura Derba, President, Whole Foods Market

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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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Massachusetts State Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz

April 28, 2011

Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council
Whole Foods Ad-Hoc Committee

Dear Chair Steve Laferriere and Members of the JPNC Whole Foods Ad-Hoc Committee:

Thank you for your service to the Jamaica Plain community by taking on this new role within the JP Neighborhood Council. I write today to outline what I hope will serve as constructive suggestions for addressing the controversies that have divided our neighborhood since the release of the news that Whole Foods intended to move into the space of the former Hi-Lo Market.

The planned expansion of a Whole Foods Market into the Hyde Square section of Jamaica Plain has generated heated debate among my constituents. Since I first learned of Hi-Lo Foods’ closing, my office has done its best to understand from all sides the different perspectives on this highly divisive issue. I’ve met with representatives from Whole Foods, spoken with former employees of Hi-Lo, heard from members of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council, and spoken with staff at the JPNDC and local Main Streets organizations. My staff members and I attended community meetings at the Blessed Sacrament development, the Kennedy Elementary, and the First Baptist Church, where we listened to the concerns of community activists both for and against the expansion, and in the middle. Most important, we read hundreds of emails and letters from ordinary residents throughout Jamaica Plain detailing how the opening of a Whole Foods in Hyde Square would affect their lives—for better and for worse.

As many residents expressed, there are several positives to bringing a retailer such as Whole Foods to JP. We stand to gain potentially dozens of new jobs in the neighborhood, at rates of pay and with benefits that will likely exceed those paid by Hi-Lo. This is no small thing for the workers and families who will be touched by employment, especially at a time of still-fragile recovery for our economy. Whole Foods could also increase access to healthy food to the Hyde/Jackson area, especially for those without cars, at a time when many other low-income neighborhoods suffer dire health impacts because of the lack of such access. I believe firmly that all people deserve to have realistic healthful food options, no matter what zip code or socio-economic bracket they live in.

Unfortunately, there are also serious negative impacts that Whole Foods’ entry into the neighborhood is likely to bring. I believe, with a heavy heart, that these disadvantages outweigh the advantages.

Looking at data from other instances where Whole Foods has located in low- and middle-income neighborhoods, it’s clear that the presence of Whole Foods rapidly and substantially raises property values in its surrounding areas. This is the inherent problem. Even if Whole Foods behaves as the best corporate citizen, the best neighbor possible by all of our usual standards, its presence will still light a fire under the gentrification process that will displace low- and moderate- income residents from JP.

Increasing property values in our community is not always bad. Indeed, this is something every home owner in JP—low- or high-income, white, brown, or black—probably hopes for. But pace matters. A lot. There are families who have spent generations building JP into the incredible neighborhood it is today. We stand to lose many of these families, and their friends and neighbors, if property taxes and rents balloon so fast that their incomes can’t keep up. In order to preserve the character of JP that we all love and believe in so deeply, development has to happen at a pace our neighbors can benefit from, not be displaced by.

Whole Foods has said many times that they aspire to be a positive neighbor and a responsible corporate citizen in the JP community. I believe this is true and therefore ask Whole Foods to recognize that their typical strategy for integrating into new neighborhoods is not designed to protect economically and socially diverse communities. In action, this requires Whole Foods to take some specific steps to help mitigate the impacts described above.

  1. Whole Foods has stated that they expect to hire about 100 workers at their planned JP location. In order for local residents to actually benefit from this job creation, and for Whole Foods’ presence to contribute to local wealth creation, Whole Foods needs to commit to hiring locally for a specific percentage of these jobs.
  2. Whole Foods should also work with credible community groups in the Hyde/Jackson area to set up and endow a community preservation fund for the purpose of keeping Hyde/Jackson area properties affordable for current residents. This will mean front-loading Whole Foods’ typical neighborhood philanthropy, replacing its current strategy of rolling “5% days” and small donations to a variety of groups. The trouble with that existing strategy is that, not too long from now, Whole Foods’ corporate giving in JP will be benefiting the future neighborhood that its presence will create—not the current neighbors who’ve worked so hard to make JP what it is today and who stand to be displaced. Endowing a fund that could buy available property in the Hyde/Jackson area with a commitment to keeping it affordable will require a serious financial commitment—no doubt. But Whole Foods’ detrimental impact on the neighborhood in the absence of such an investment would be of a far greater magnitude.

If making commitments of this size is beyond Whole Foods’ reach, the simplest way to protect the neighborhood would be for Whole Foods to break their lease on the Hyde Square space, or sublet it to another grocer specializing in Latino foods.

I make these proposals as an elected official who represents all of the JP community, and who is committed to stewarding its long-term interests. But I also make them as a JP resident who deeply loves this community—with all its blemishes, all its character, and all its complexities. I know you, as JPNC members, share this passion for our community. I thank you again for your service in tackling these difficult issues and look forward to working with you to find solutions that reflect the pride, creativity, and mutual respect that are the fundamental values of our neighborhood.

Saludos,

Sonia Chang-Díaz 
State Senator 
Second Suffolk District

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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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