Grocer answers lingering questions

June 24, 2011
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Whole Foods Markets’ June 2 community meeting on its controversial plans to open a store in Hyde Square ended early when police shut it down, but company officials answered some leftover questions this week.

One issue that was not addressed in the meeting was mitigating potential traffic congestion in the square when the store opens.

“We have been meeting regularly with the Boston Transportation Department to address traffic issues and methods for creating better traffic flow out of our parking lot,” Whole Foods spokesperson Heather McCready told the Gazette via email last week.

BTD officials did not respond to a Gazette request for comment by press time.

City Councilor Matt O’Malley has, in meetings with Whole Foods, suggested that Whole Foods should support local bodega owners by using its purchasing power to help the store owners keep their shelves stocked with Latino specialty items.

“We are open to meeting with the bodega owners,” McCready said.

Following the June 2 meeting, McCready said Whole Foods plans to meet with local community groups for follow-up sessions. Last week she declined to say what groups Whole Foods plans to meet with, what would be discussed or whether there would be any more public meetings.

“We are in the process of scheduling meetings with several community groups. At this time we are focusing on smaller meetings with community groups,” she said in response to those questions.

McCready was able to clarify some details about Whole Foods’ plans to rent parking lot space from the nearby Angell Animal Medical Center parking lot owned by the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Those 20 spaces will be employee parking, she said.

At the meeting, some audience members were concerned about Whole Foods’ commitment to local hiring. Whole Foods Regional Vice President Laura Derba attempted to reassure them by saying that the lack of employee parking would force the store to hire locally.

Derba reiterated those comments in  an open letter to the community emailed to the Gazette June 21. “(W)e will have very limited employee parking, therefore, we are hopeful that our store presents employment opportunities for folks who live within walking or biking distance of the store, or [can travel] via public transportation.”

She also said Whole Foods has the option to lease more spaces from the MSPCA.

The store will likely employ about 100 people.

In her letter, Derba also said Whole Foods is still looking into the possibility of hosting a farmers market in the parking lot at 415 Centre St. this summer.

Derba wrote that Whole Foods continues to welcome community feedback on store products at JP_Products@wholefoods.com and on any issue to store manager Mike Walker at na.jmp.stl@wholefoods.com.

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