As a JP resident, I’ve been reading about the planned shift from Hi-Lo to Whole Foods with mixed feelings, based entirely upon the posts to Neighbors for Neighbors and the JP Gazette’s coverage of this change.
I think, as a community, we need to assess, and have a focused opinion on, the economic effects of any corporate chain moving into the area. This is a neighborhood where residents are far more likely to walk to a local business rather than drive to a chain—and that is a really good attribute worth preserving. I’m sympathetic to the arguments against Whole Foods that lament the obliteration of diversity in the neighborhood—although, frankly, “diversity” isn’t really something that can be measured or policed, and it’s way too easy to pay lip-service to a nostalgic idea of diversity. For example, how hard would it be for the Whole Foods moving to JP to carry some of the Hi-Lo’s line of foods, and thereby make the hollow public relations claim that they are committed to ethnic diversity in this neighborhood?
There are other economic problems—as well as potential economic benefits—that this change would bring, and as a community we should articulate a sense of what these might be, and how we might combat the problems. For starters, a Whole Foods would probably bring a lot of outside shoppers to Hyde Square; the parking alone would make it a huge attraction. This would likely mean foot traffic and benefits for already existing independent businesses in the area. For people who already live and work in Hyde Square, this would be a huge, vital benefit that I, and, no doubt, others would wholeheartedly support.
As a community, maybe we should focus on developing some clear-cut demands about what we want from any chain that chooses to move in here—so that, ideally, local independent businesses benefit from increased foot-traffic, but at the same time, the rights of the people who seek jobs in these chains will be respected. For example: Do we have the means to insist upon Whole Foods giving first priority to employing any Hi-Lo workers who seek employment with them? Can we make a case for enabling Whole Foods workers in JP to unionize, if they should desire to do so? And, as a community, are we willing to boycott this chain, even if it is convenient, if it fails to acknowledge the particular needs of the community?