Can Whole Foods Market revive Englewood

Whole Foods Market is coming to Englewood. Whole Foods, also known as “Whole Paycheck”, and the City of Chicago announced that the grocery chain will build a store near 63rd and Halsted, across the street from Kennedy-King College.

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Part of the Junction Grove/Englewood mural. (Peter V. Bella)

The announcement to bring Whole Foods to one of the city’s food deserts drew praise, criticism, and some consternation. Much of it from people who do not live in Englewood or know nothing about Englewood.

Englewood is not just a food desert. It is an economic desert and disaster area. It is a wasteland.

Englewood was not always an economic wasteland. The neighborhood was once a thriving middle class economic engine. Englewood was originally called Junction Grove. The area was known for multiple railroad lines. What enentually became the Englewood station discharged thousands of immigrants a day. It was one of the busiest passenger rail centers in the nation.

Englewood was the entry point to the Chicago area for immigrants from Germany and Scandinavia. Later in the 20th Century it was the entry point for African Americans during the Great Migration. Englewood was the beginning of life in Chicago for millions of people from all over the world and the country.

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Junction Grove/Englewood Mural. (Peter V. Bella)

Junction Grove was later named Englewood by a developer who hailed from Englewood, New Jersey. It was annexed by the City of Chicago in 1889.

Until World War II, Englewood was a thriving middle class community. Large and small businesses and professionals earned profits and provided jobs. Englewood even weathered the Great Depression better than other areas of the city, state, and nation.

Due to wartime shortages Englewood became stagnant and started its decline. New homes could not be built, older homes could not be repaired or rehabbed, and businesses started shutting down.

The immigration to Englewood did not stop. People kept arriving.

Englewood, once a thriving middle class enclave, became associated with poverty and crime. Its star was dimmed over decades until the light went out.

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Five foot tall Lincoln bust in Englewood. (Peter V. Bella)

There have been economic fits and starts over the decades. None lasted. Englewood, it appeared, would always be viewed as an impoverished wasteland.

Instead of the first step up Chicago’s economic ladder it would be perceived as the bottom rung, the last stop, the place where dreams go to die.

Whole Foods Market could breathe new life into Englewood. The area is ripe for commercial, retail, manufacturing, and industrial development. The only way economic development can start is for some major entity to take a chance.

Whole Foods Market is taking that chance. It is a big gamble. It is hoped others will follow.

There is vacant land in Englewood. There are people who can be trained to work. With land and people there is hope. Other commercial, retail, and manufacturing entities should take a close look and Englewood. It could once again become the ladder to prosperity instead of the bottom rung of poverty and desperation.

 

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