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Hi-Lo’s closing opens up Whole big debate in JP

Hi-Lo’s closing opens up Whole big debate in JP

By Donna Goodison  |   Thursday, January 20, 2011  |  http://www.bostonherald.com  |  Local Coverage
Photo by Nancy Lane

A Whole Foods incursion into earthy-crunchy Jamaica Plain is sparking a culture clash between fans of the posh chain and local shoppers loyal to a popular Hispanic market the gourmet grocer is replacing.

“This neighborhood carried the Hispanic consciousness and still does. The question is, where does Whole Foods fit into the character of this community?” said state Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez (D-Jamaica Plain). “Is it going to affect rents in the neighborhood? Is it going to affect property values?”

Critics fear the Whole Foods — the fourth in the Hub and the first in Jamaica Plain — will drive up prices at nearby bodegas after it displaces the inexpensive Hi-Lo supermarket.

“It’s too expensive — really too expensive,” said Lucia Bastidas of Hyde Park. “We’re not happy Hi-Lo is closing. It has really good prices.”

But Whole Foods fans say the store will provide a coveted high-end anchor to a gritty neighborhood in transition — a mix of young families, hipsters and Hispanic residents who could benefit from the foodie paradise and the jobs it will bring.

“I’m totally excited!” said Jamaica Plain resident Louie Cronin, a writer. “The marinated olives are to die for.”

“It will bring more people into the neighborhood,” said Carlos Schillaci, executive director of the Hyde/Jackson Square Main Street program. “There will be more foot traffic, and it will be really good for the restaurants and everything else.”

The food fight is spurring a high-level confab with the upscale grocery chain, Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s office said yesterday.

The mayor “is trying to set up a private meeting with him and executives of Whole Foods to discuss some of the concerns of the residents,” said spokeswoman Dot Joyce.

Whole Foods has been “keenly interested” in opening a Jamaica Plain store, which will be “reflective of the community,” corporate spokeswoman Heather McCready said.

Steven Knapp, president of Hi-Lo operator Newton-based Knapp Foods Inc., said the decision “really came down to a factor of the age of the management team, and we wanted to continue to serve the community in an A-plus manner. We felt Whole Foods would be a positive addition.”

But some fear the chain will alter the funky mosaic of the neighborhood.

“I think that . . . diversity is what really defines the character of Jamaica Plain, and corporate businesses don’t really reflect that diversity,” said David Warner, 41, co-owner of two City Feed and Supply natural food stores.

The mayor shares neighbors’ concerns about higher food prices in the area, Joyce said.

“We must continue to pursue competition,” she said. “More bodegas, more places to shop that sell the types of food (Hi-Lo customers) are interested in at prices they can afford.”

Ira Kantor contributed to this report.

Article URL: http://www.bostonherald.com/news/regional/view.bg?articleid=1310750

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