Whole Foods Market is “unwilling” to sign a community benefits agreement and will not offer any benefits unique to Jamaica Plain, according to members of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) who met with the grocer on Sept. 7.
Whole Foods officials “were unwilling to enter into any formal agreement at this time,” said a written JPNC statement provided by JPNC chair Andrea Howley. No further meetings were discussed, the statement said.
Whole Foods did not respond to Gazette questions. The chain health food store is controversially moving into the former Hi-Lo building at 450 Centre St. in Hyde Square.
A JPNC “Negotiating Team” was working on what it called a “good neighbor agreement” to present to Whole Foods. It is unclear what was in that agreement, which was kept unpublicized. It is also unclear whether it was finished and presented to Whole Foods. The JPNC said only that it presented “priorities” to Whole Foods.
That included “transparency” of Whole Foods’ community donation process and a “focus” on such issues as local and youth employment; impact on small businesses; and traffic and parking.
The JPNC also asked Whole Foods to hold quarterly in-store meetings, in English and Spanish, to “allow for formal time to ask questions, hear developments and raise issues related to the store.”
Whole Foods described its current methods of store operations and community donations, “but did not commit to any action that is specific to our community,” said the JPNC statement.
According to the JPNC, Whole Foods officials said they remain willing to answer questions and discuss partnerships—including via a new community liaison who is a JP resident. “However, they stated that they were unwilling to enter into any formal agreement at this time,” the JPNC said.
“Although no further meetings were discussed, we each agreed to continue dialogue and to work on creating a comprehensive list of specific programs Whole Foods will enact to benefit the Jamaica Plain community,” said the JPNC.
Whole Foods later identified the new community liaison as Jennifer Licht, who will oversee store donations, tours and events.
“As a mom and a resident of JP, I appreciate the responsibility that we all share in supporting our neighborhood,” said Licht, a seven-year JP resident, in a written statement provided by Whole Foods. “I am eager to get started showing people how Whole Foods Market truly cares about our communities and our environment.”
Four of the five JPNC Negotiating Team members met with Whole Foods: Karley Ausiello, Pam Bender, Francesca Fordiani and Howley. Also attending was JPNC member Steve Laferriere, who earlier this year chaired an ad hoc committee that took community input on Whole Foods and issued a report that could serve as the basis for the good neighbor agreement.
Updated version: This version includes a statement from the new Whole Foods JP community liaison.