Grocer gives some answers

Before a Whole Foods-hosted community meeting was cut short by police June 2, officials from the grocery store chain managed to deliver some news about parking, hiring and products at the new store set to move into Hyde Square.

The meeting, Whole Foods’ first face-to-face with the community, comes six months after the Gazette first reported that Whole Foods is planning to open a new store at 415 Centre St. Some, but not all, of the questions raised by the community at the meeting were at least partially answered at the meeting in the auditorium at the Curley School at 493 Centre St. Following the meeting, Whole Foods officials said they were not sure if they would host another public forum.

“We will be meeting with smaller community groups right off the bat,” Whole Foods spokesperson Heather McCready told the Gazette. She declined to say what groups Whole Foods plans to meet with, but said the meetings would likely be scheduled in the next few weeks.

Responding to community questions about parking at the June 2 meeting Whole Foods New England Regional Vice President Laura Derba announced that:

  • Whole Foods has signed a long-term agreement to lease 20 parking spaces from the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty Animals (MSPCA). The parking lot for the MSPCA’s Angell-Memorial Hospital is across Perkins Street from the back of the 415 Centre St. site where Whole Foods plans to open this fall. “We have the option to expand that into as many spaces as we need,” Derba said.
  • Whole Foods might be willing to let other businesses use its lot in the evenings. The former grocery store at the site, Hi-Lo Market, used to allow patrons at nearby restaurants to park in the lot in the evening.
  • It is expected that the average shopping trip to the store will be about 20 minutes, and that there will be a lot of turnover in the lot.
  • Whole Foods plans to redesign the bus stop in front of the store on Centre Street, expanding the sidewalk there onto the site.
  • Whole Foods expects most of the about 100 employees at the store to be from in and around JP, partly because there will be little or no employee parking on the site.  Hiring will likely begin in eight weeks, Derba said. Interviews will be conducted at a trailer at 415 Centre St. Whole Foods plans to work closely with the Mayor’s office and the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation on getting the word out about the new jobs.
  • The store is committed to carrying local products, including locally produced Batch Ice Cream.
  • Whole Foods officials also described different fair trade, environmental and charitable programs the grocery store has in place. One of the chain’s “core values” is “creating wealth through profits and growth,” Derba said.

Questions that have not been fully answered include whether Whole Foods can contribute meaningfully to efforts to slow the gentrification of the Hyde Square neighborhood, a trend that some fear the store is exacerbating. Outstanding questions also remain about the impact the new store—likely a regional draw—will have on traffic in the area.

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