Latino grocer may arrive soon

April 29, 2011
By

David Taber

Bodega impact questioned

HYDE SQ.—The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) could announce a deal that would move a new Latino grocer into a Centre Street storefront the development corporation owns as soon as next month, JPNDC spokesperson Sally Swenson told the Gazette.

But, according to Carlos Schillaci, head of Hyde/Jackson Square Main Streets, the district does not need a large Latino grocer. “I don’t think it is necessary for a good mix of businesses. We have 10 bodegas,” Schillaci said.

As the Gazette previously reported in its Spanish-language section, local bodega owners have also expressed concerns about potential competition from a new Latino market.

Earlier this year, after the news came out that Hi-Lo Foods—a 47-year-old supermarket that specialized in Latin American food—was closing and being replaced by Whole Foods Market, JPNDC staff started looking at the possibility of leasing its recently constructed 7,500-square-foot retail space at 363 Centre St. to a Latino grocer. The space is on the ground floor of a building that also houses the Doña Betsaida Gutierrez residential rental cooperative at the former site of the Blessed Sacrament Church.

In an e-mail, JPNDC spokesperson Sally Swenson told the Gazette that JPNDC was motivated by concerns that Hi-Lo’s closing “disproportionately and overwhelmingly affected low-income and Latino residents [and]…eliminated an anchor of the Hyde/Jackson Latino business.”

Hyde/Jackson Square Main Streets is in the process of conducting a business needs analysis for the district, Schillaci said. The Main Streets organization recently completed an analysis of existing conditions in the area.

Some community members have also expressed concerns that Whole Foods’ opening could hurt local bodegas. “It is different from anything that has ever been here,” Eric Bubly, the soon-to-retire owner of Meatland at 306 Centre St., told the Gazette, saying he believes the new grocer could change the character of the neighborhood.

City Councilor Matt O’Malley previously told the Gazette he has talked to Whole Foods about using its purchasing power to act as a wholesale distributor for local bodegas. Whole Foods officials said they are “open to the idea,” O’Malley said.

Whole Foods officials did not immediately respond to a Gazette request for comment for this article.

Swenson told the Gazette the JPNDC is aware of concerns being expressed about its plan, but noted that similar sentiments were expressed when Stop & Shop opened in Jackson Square. “The concern was, they sold a lot of similar products,” she said.

When the Stop & Shop opened in Hyde Square, a community trust fund was set up to support bodegas that were hurt by competition form the new grocery store. No stores ever applied for funding and the fund was largely used to support area non-profits.

JPNDC is currently “reaching out to immediate abutters, including residents and business owners, to ensure that their ideas are addressed,” and plans to hold a community meeting after a it signs a letter of intent with the new grocer, but before it signs a lease, Swenson said.

Swenson said the new grocery store could employ as many as 50 people.

The Gazette previously reported in its Spanish-language article a Boston-area Latino grocery store chain called Compare Supermarkets is interested in the JPNDC space.

Swenson declined to comment on what store the JPNDC is working with.

It turns out there are two different Latino grocers that use the Compare name. One, Compare Foods, is based in New York and has stores throughout the eastern seaboard, from Maine to South Carolina. The other, Compare Supermarkets, is based in Chelsea, Mass. It has two Massachusetts stores, one in Lynn and one in Chelsea.

No one was available for comment last week when the Gazette contacted the two grocers.

Swenson told the Gazette that five grocers have expressed interest in the JPNDC’s Hyde Square space. Four are Boston-area grocers with single stores or local chains. One is “larger—not national but larger than regional,” she said.

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