The announcement followed a Jan. 14 Gazette report at www.jamaicaplaingazette.com breaking the news of the planned grocery store changeover—and the passionate response from the community to the closing of Hi-Lo. For 47 years, Hi-Lo has focused on providing food staples from all over Latin America to Jamaica Plain’s and Greater Boston’s large Latino community.
“We will probably be here for another three to four weeks more,” Hi-Lo manager Bill Jordan told the Gazette in a brief Jan. 14 phone interview. “There is someone coming into this location—a Whole Foods,” he said. The new store will likely not open for a few months, he said.
Whole Foods is a national chain of grocery stores that specializes in organic food.
“Each Whole Foods Market is designed to fit the community it serves, so no two stores are ever identical. In keeping with the company’s mission, Whole Foods Market plans to source a wide variety of products that meet the needs of strict quality standards as well as the diverse needs of their shoppers,” the Whole Foods press statement said.
In Gazette interviews and in on-line forums, community members have expressed strong opinions about the role Hi-Lo has played in the neighborhood.
“JP has definitely changed. Whole Foods would not have come into some parts of the neighborhood back in the day,” said state Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez, when informed of Whole Foods planned store by the Gazette last week. Sánchez told the Gazette he first heard rumors of Hi-Lo’s closure from his children’s daycare teacher.
“Hi-Lo has served four generations of Hispanics and Latino immigrants here in the city,” Sánchez said.
Early this week, Sánchez spoke to Whole Foods officials, the state rep. told the Gazette Jan. 19. “They said every store is different and they try to make sure they include community perspective,” he said.
He said regional Whole Foods officials have committed to meet with him and to meet with the community in the future. “The community is going to want to have a conversation with them,” he said, saying the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council would be a sensible venue for that conversation.
“I am looking forward to sitting down with them,” Sánchez said.
“Hi-Lo has been one of the very few places where you can get food from many different Latin American countries,” Carlos Shillaci, head of Hyde/Jackson Square Main Streets, told the Gazette Jan. 14.
Shillaci told the Gazette he is a regular Hi-Lo shopper. “I am originally from Argentina. They always bring in all sorts of Argentinean food,” he said.
Sánchez said his family shops there when they are entertaining. The state rep. extolled the store’s diverse selection of tortillas and cheeses, as well as its practice of baking Cuban, Puerto Rican and Dominican styles of bread two or three times a day.
He also noted that Hi-Lo is much more affordable than Whole Foods, in his experience. “When you go to Hi-Lo, you can get eight bags of groceries for $100. At Whole Foods, you can get three bags, Does that mean an entire population is going to have to change its diet?”
Sánchez and Shillaci both also noted that a Whole Foods moving into Hyde Square would put pressure on other local businesses.
“The goal of Hyde/Jackson Main Streets is to maintain local businesses versus chain businesses. I do not want to make an official statement before talking to the board, but my first and personal statement is that Hi-Lo will be highly missed,” Shillaci said.
“We just invested in the expansion of City Feed, which does have some produce as well. We have organic and whole foods over at the Harvest Co-op Market. And those folks employ locally,” Sánchez said.
Whole Foods plans to employ around 100 people and has “a long-standing history of hiring team members from the local community and nurturing the careers of team members, encouraging promoition within the company,” the press release said.
News of Hi-Lo’s closure and Whole Foods’s new tenancy spread quickly through the neighborhood after the Gazette broke the story.
As of Jan. 19, the story had received close to 6,000 page-views, making it far and away the most popular story ever to appear on the Gazette web site. Conversations about the sale took off on various local web sites, and in one letter to the Gazette [See Opinion.], leading to a spirited debate about gentrification and neighborhood identity.
“If I wanted to live in Chestnut Hill, I’d build a time machine, go back to school, major in business, get a sales job and move to Chestnut Hill,” one poster said on the message board www.lemmingtrail.com, referring to a suburban neighborhood west of JP.
Others expressed enthusiasm for Whole Foods, like this poster at www.universalhub.com: “Whole Foods has better prices than Stop & Shop and Shaws on most identical items. They just don’t carry the cheapest of cheap varieties…For instance, Amy’s soups are cheaper there than anywhere else, but they don’t carry 33-cent-per-can tomato soup made of corn syrup and MSG, items are going which means that the cheapest soup available is going to be more than at other stores.”
Another Universal Hub poster said, “I just discovered the Hi-Lo! [It is the] best place around for chicken necks and pork necks, not to mention dulce de leche candy! Very sad.”