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Whole Foods official announces it's opening a store in Jamaica Plain

Neighbors,

According to the Boston Globe, it's official, Whole Foods announced toda that it plans to open a store in Jamaica Plain in the building currently occupied by Hi-Lo. Here are some quotes from the Globe Article:
“Whole Foods Market has been keenly interested in developing a Jamaica Plain location. We are now eager to become active members of such a strong, diverse neighborhood and to open a store that is reflective of the vibrant community,” Laura Derba, Whole Foods Market North Atlantic regional president, said in a statement.
"In keeping with the company’s mission, Whole Foods Market plans to source a wide variety of products that meet its strict quality standards as well as the diverse needs of their shoppers"

More info available on JP Patch

 

LETS DISCUSS: What are your thoughts about this?

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Comment by Rene Rodriguez on January 23, 2011 at 5:01pm
Amen Pat Roberts!  Geez - if we could channel all this commentary into action we'd all have a higher standard of living in the end.  Welcome WF!!  Maybe Barney's Co-op will open next.  We can only hope.
Comment by Pat Roberts on January 23, 2011 at 3:45pm
Dave, it's none of your business how much money was involved in the business deal between Hi-Lo and Whole Foods.  Hil-Lo has the right to sell or rent its property for whatever the market will bear, and Whole Foods has the right to buy or rent from them if they think they can afford it.  Similarly, it's inappropriate for you to tell Whole Foods or any other store what products it should carry, or where the products come from, and who they should hire.  Of course, the products have to conform to the usual consumer safety guidelines, and the hiring decisions have to conform to the laws about discrimination, but beyond that, it's not for you to say.  We still have a free market here, even in JP.  We don't need and shouldn't have a committee that dictates to any store how to run their business.  If Whole Foods doesn't sell products that people want, they will either change their product line, or they will go out of business.  All without your advice.
Comment by Dave Baron on January 23, 2011 at 12:37pm

@Pat - it seems like this is in some ways a philosophical question, and I don't think there is much chance of me changing your or anyone else's mind on basic questions of free enterprise and economics.  But to respond as best I can, the reason we have a Zoning Code and various kinds of business licensing is precisely to make sure that "the community" -- all of us, neighbors -- has some input in the private moneymaking transactions that otherwise determine the shape of a streetscape and a neighborhood.  You refer to the discussions and open community meetings that happen around these kinds of decisions as "extortion," but is it really extortion to give people who live near a store the chance to make recommendations about traffic patterns in and out of the parking lot, or hours for trash pick-up, or even for people to have some say in the kinds of new business they want opening in their neighborhood?  If you answer yes, then I don't think threre's anything I can say to change your mind -- there are other smart people who just don't believe in zoning, and they would presumably be content to have their communities shaped entirely by private parties looking solely to maximize the benefits to themselves.  But I don't think it's "extortion" when a union threatens to strike in order to improve conditions for workers, and I don't think it's "extortion" when a community establishes zoning and licensing guidelines in order to maintain some kind of control over the future shape of their streets and neighborhoods.  I guess I'd call it "leverage" instead, or maybe just empowerment.  And yes - I certainly did mean to imply that the community should use what leverage we may have in this matter to make sure that we have a seat at the table with WF, Hi Lo, and the Knapp family, all of whom are about to make a lot of money from the people of Jamaica Plain.  I have read the posts on this topic - not just on N4N but elsewhere -- and I have spent a lot of time over the last week talking to people in JP about this issue.  And you're right - it seems like a lot of people would like to see a WF in that space.  And a lot of people would like to see something else.  And most people, wherever they are (or think they are) right now on the ultimate thumbs-up/thumbs-down question about WF, have legitimate questions and concerns about the change and what it is going to mean for the community.  It is those people -- all of us -- who absolutely deserve to have our questions answered and our concerns addressed.  That's something I don't think we should apologize for, whether we think of WF as a "progressive" and community-oriented company or just another giant chain looking to make money in JP.  To my mind, this is not about judging the merits and demerits of corporate entities -- though I think members of the community who have the energy and ability to parse through that should be given a forum to try to influence their neighbors -- it is about coming together as a community to make sure very important perspectives that might otherwise not be heard are amplified and taken seriously.  Some of these concerns are big and some are small, some may have solutions and some may not, but they have as much right to be part of this discussion - whether zoning/licensing relief is necessary in this instance or not -- as any of the issues that the parties presumably took into account when making this deal: how much more money Knapp would make in rent from WF, how much money WF would pay to Hi Lo to vacate the space, and how much money WF would make from the people of JP if it sited a store in Hyde Square.  I think the businesses in a community ultimately benefit, just as the people benefit, when a community is actively involved in bringing a range of other, "external" concerns to the table -- from traffic and parking to the impact on other local businesses in the neighborhood, from the foods that are stocked (and sourcing decisions) to the impact on local youth looking for jobs, and from the cost of buying groceries to the fate of public art on the walls of the building.  I don't think that's anti-commerce or, for that matter, anti-WF (no matter what the Herald says!). 

Comment by Daniel Verinder on January 23, 2011 at 11:24am

Hi, Eric, thanks for your comments. Btw, I saw your comment on absentee-landlords and snow shoveling, and I wholeheartedly agree. Regarding WF, as I am getting too busy to keep responding to these critiques, and I have said my piece, and I don't want to dominate the board, I will try to hold my tongue and make this my last post. (I encourage other truth seekers to stand up and be heard/seen.) But to respond:

 

1. On the contrary, my penultimate paragraph makes it clear that I am encouraging people to weigh the facts against whatever their own ethics, morals, and politics are, as I suspect numerous people did when Domino's considered moving in. I assume JPers come in a variety of political stripes-I've seen the fliers for the JP GOP group. I also assume that there are plenty of liberal JPers whose views would not mesh with mine (for instance, I happen to partially agree with the Libertarians that government-sponsored education has inherent risks, especially wrt how history is taught.) In fact, if anyone here were to say, "Hey, leave WF alone-they are a paragon of libertarian virtue," I'd say, "Ok, fair enough. If that's your bag, have at it." But nobody has. And you should know that plenty of people do/did assume Whole Foods to be a bastion of liberal values:

 

http://authenticorganizations.com/harquail/2009/08/24/the-two-faced...

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/17/whole-foods-fight/

 

And I have seen a number of assumptions posted here:

a) "Most people are very glad Whole Foods is coming, and also glad that Hi-Lo is leaving." (no polls, to my knowledge have been taken. Are many people glad WF is coming? Perhaps. Are most? That's a big assertion to make w/o data to back it up.)

 

b) WF "Creat[es] a corporate culture that empowers and supports employees" and "Structur[es] compensation sanely." (My previous post provided ample evidence to cast at least reasonable doubt on this assumption.)

 

c) WF "Focus[es] and leading on issues of sustainable food production & sourcing.(including a commitment and practice of working w/ local vendors..." (There are two assumptions here: 1-that local =sustainable <which I happen to agree with, but not everybody does>, and 2-that WF is the leader. Now if you think organic =sustainable, which I think is more tenuous, then, as I have shown, one could argue that Walmart leads. And, since Walmart now also sells local goods, they may also lead in that practice. Part of the ambiguity is what constitutes "leading"-is it being the biggest? Then perhaps Walmart wins. Is it being the first? The perhaps the CSA's and true coops win.)

 

d) WF "Transparently communicat[es] to stakeholders." (I'd say anonymously posting comments on a board to destroy competition, then changing bylaws behind shareholders' backs to prevent getting ousted is the opposite of transparent. To their credit, they post SEC filings on their website. But they are required to post them on the SEC's website anyway, so they are not really going too far above the call of duty.)

 

2. a) Knapp isn't the one moving in, so not much to be done there. I am not fighting to keep Hi-Lo. To my knowledge, that is not an option. Should it become one, then yes, Hi-Lo should be part of the community discussion and a comparison between the two could be made. Really, I am fighting for people to make fully informed decisions, based on both sets of facts-the ones they want to hear and the ones they don't.

     b) I did point out my disappointment for Knapp making the deal in the first place, staying on as landlord, and letting workers go with only three weeks pay and no prior warning.

   c) Others posted their complaints about poor quality products at Knapp, selling bad meat, I think.

d) Knapp's image is that of being a nbhd grocery store that specializes in Latin foods. To that end, I'd say it has lived up to its image. WF's image, to many, rightly or wrongly, is that of a company that cares. To that end, I'd say, people need to do their research, rethink that image, and then decide if WF is still right for them.

e) Due to time constraints, I could only go on what the media has reported. I couldn't find anything about Knapp, but found a lot on WF. Maybe that's b/c it's publicly traded and a bigger target. IMHO, that's fair, b/c it has more stakeholders to answer to and affects more lives.

 

3. a) My point about WF was not about politics but about honesty. People have a right to know who they are dealing with, especially b/c:

        i) some posters have argued that if someone doesn't like WF, they shouldn't shop there, implying that we are expected to vote with our dollars.

      ii) Plenty of people do associate money with their values and want to spend it at places that support their values-for instance many people boycott Domino's because they give money to anti-abortion groups, and I suspect (but have no proof) that this is also why some people did not want Domino's in JP. Similarly, people recently boycotted Target over what was seen as supporting homophobic politicians.

 

     iii) WF's CEO doesn't just share an ideology that less than 5% of the U.S. shares, he also engaged in practices that led to an SEC investigation. Similarly, WF settled an anti-trust violation suit with the FTC, and they face charges from the NLRB. This behavior transcends politics and deals with breaking laws. And, yes, I assume that at least some JPers will find that it constitutes unethical behavior, too.

 

  b) I do think, as I have stated earlier, that all stakeholders do have a right to expect nbhd companies to be good neighbors, and they have a right to express that expectation and hold companies accountable to living up to that expectation. If I had the time and companies weren't so secretive, I would pay more attention to what local companies are doing to be responsible or irresponsible neighbors, and work within my own economic means to support or more fully support those that I think are behaving most responsibly. I try to be more issue-focused than politician-focused, so if a company had a Scott Brown sign in their window, I might ask them why and see if it seemed reasonable to me. If they had a David Duke sign, I would take my business elsewhere. Two things that set WF apart are i) their size-supporting them or not affects a lot more lives, and ii) their less than perfect past compared to the image they present.

 

Would you hire an employee who lied on their resume, was and/or is investigated by two different law enforcement agencies, and plea bargained with the DA for breaking the law? If so, good for you. Maybe this is no different. Is there something wrong with wanting the money you spend and the neighbors in your neighborhood to be law abiding and respectful? I think this, too, is not so different.

 

Btw, if you are a fan of WF, they are urging people to urge the govt to conditionally deregulate GE/GMO crops. It's an interesting stance that reflects part (and only part) of my point. Some people would expect WF to use its muscle to push for a full-on ban or moratorium or at least complete regulation of GE/GMO crops, so WF's

stance may be disappointing. Others may expect that Mackey's libertarian views would have driven WF to support full deregulation, but it didn't do that either. So it walks the middle, a surprise to some, but exactly what others would expect. If you want to take action on this issue, go here:

http://blog.wholefoodsmarket.com/2011/01/urgent-action-needed-to-su...

Comment by Steffani Bennett on January 23, 2011 at 11:04am
@Eric, I totally agree! The bottom line is that Hyde Square and all of JP will benefit greatly from WF coming in, so let's welcome them! I personally can't wait.
Comment by Eric on January 23, 2011 at 3:24am

"I would caution against venerating or defending [Whole Foods] too much, or assuming that they are on your side, politically, morally, or ethically."

 

1. It seems as though you're the one making the largest assumption. Your entire premise and "caution" assumes that people who are venerating or defending Whole Foods share your exact same political viewpoints.

 

2. I never saw any posts on NFN that broke down everything Knapp Foods or the management of Hi-Lo thought about any of these issues. I don't know how they felt about environmental issues, I don't know which politicians they admired, how they felt about unionization and how they treated their employees (although their employees do not seem so happy with how they received notice). Do you have an available breakdown so we can do a side-by-side comparison to see if we are gaining a business that is more progressive? Because you haven't even seemed to consider the possibility.

 

3. Will you politically audit every business in Jamaica Plain? How did the owners of Hi-Lo feel about the Affordable Care Act? Do they believe in carbon offsets? Do the owners of Same Old Place support unionization? Who among JP's business owners lists The Fountainhead among their favorite books? Who did the owner of El Oriental vote for in the recent Senatorial election, Martha Coakley or Scott Brown?

 

If you're going to single out Whole Foods for a complete liberal/progressive physical, I think it only fair to subject every other business to the same litmus test.

Comment by Daniel Verinder on January 23, 2011 at 12:58am

A friend of mine convinced me to get off my soapbox and get out my account statement. Has anyone considered the effect this WF will have on the other WF's nearby? WF has been accused by investors/Wall Street of growing too fast in the past, and as a result, they cut their workforce by 7% as a correction in 2008:

 

http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/05_43/b3956106.htm

http://www.smartmoney.com/investing/stocks/is-whole-foods-too-price...

 

Now of course, who are we to question WF's wisdom? But I'd hate to see the store close due to cannibalization, as has happened with Starbucks locations:

 

http://books.google.com/books?id=Yq_WAUXqRAEC&pg=PA137&lpg=...

 

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/businesstechnology/2008028854...

 

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/economy-watch/2009/01/starbucks_cl...

 

Comment by Daniel Verinder on January 23, 2011 at 12:31am

A) Amy, is LPC really coming to JP? While I have my concerns that the location is less central than the current one, it is good news for me personally!

 

B) Thanks, Dave, for clarifying when there will be a meeting. I hope you or some other rep from JPNC will answer Pat's questions, as I am sure JPNC is competent and prepared enough to do. But I will throw in that, as anyone who wen to the latest JP Forum was reminded, corporations owe their existence to corporate charter issued by the government and are indeed expected to answer not just to their shareholders, but also to the public good. Here's some interesting history on the issue:

 

http://www.reclaimdemocracy.org/corporate_accountability/history_co...

 

C) Someone mentioned that WF is not perfect. I wish someone would tell CEO John Mackey that.He seems to have a hard time hearing it. See, the problem I have with some of the WF defenders is an integrity/honesty one. For instance, the argument that WF is cheaper is based on carefully selecting the basket of goods, often including organic products. Until everyone can afford such products (say, by ensuring that everyone earns a living wage), such comparisons are unfair. (In fact, parents cannot, by law, spend WIC $'s on most organic foods, further limiting their ability to shop at WF:  http://www.mass.gov/Eeohhs2/docs/dph/wic/food_list.pdf Now this is more the government's fault than WF's, but it is something we must be aware of-we are replacing a grocer that carried a lot of WIC-approved products with one that carries far fewer, and that presents a problem for poor neighbors.)

 

Further, if this is the yardstick, then Walmart offers even cheaper organic goods, and is the leading seller of such goods:

 

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/03/the-great-groce...

http://organic.about.com/od/marketingpromotion/tp/Top-5-Largest-Org...

 

Also, CEO Mackey talks about the importance of trust, yet he was caught using a pseudonym on a chat board to denigrate Wild Oats and exalt Whole Foods for multiple years in an effort to drive down Wild Oats stock before Whole Foods bought them. That constituted more than just being imperfect, it bordered on illegal and led to an SEC investigation. Management's response was to change their by-laws to make it harder for shareholders to remove Mackey as CEO. This they did without seeking shareholder approval, and when shareholders later tried to repeal the change, management opposed it:

 

http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSN0819352120100308

 

(For those of you who think that WF has no monopolistic intentions, that same article recalls the FTC's settlement with WF requiring it to sell of some of the Wild Oats stores that it acquired b/c the acquisition violated anti-trust laws.)

 

Not only did management dilute shareholder control with the above, but they also had super-majority language in their by-laws, and again, when shareholders pushed to change this to simple majority, management resisted:

http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/company/pdfs/proxy09-2.pdf

 

And this leads us to employees: allegedly valued "team members", right? But when they tried to exercise their right to form a union in WI and VA, WF broke the law to intimidate workers and prevent a union from forming. (They failed in WI-go cheese heads!):

http://www.ufcw.org/press_room/index.cfm?pressReleaseID=3

 

In fact, CEO Mackey has called unions the "herpes" of the corporate world:

 

http://www.austinchronicle.com/gyrobase/Issue/story?oid=oid:106938

 

(Note that the above article is also a frightening example of how WF has treated employees in the past and may treat them in the future: outsourcing them when they get pregnant, hurt, too close to earning or cashing benefits, or otherwise "too expensive". You uber-capitalists will especially enjoy the comment to that article. Also note how these "too expensive" workers barely made above minimum wage and could not, by their own admission, afford to shop at WF.)

 

Presumably, then, employees voice themselves through their stock options as shareholders. Except, as shown above, even shareholders have had limited say over management (though that's changing, thanks to shareholder activism.) Furthermore, the top stockholders, mostly investment firms and mutual funds, together own virtually all the stock, so employees' stocks amount to a whisper in a din of profit-seekers:

 

http://www.dailyfinance.com/company/whole-foods-market-inc/wfmi/nas...

 

Well, at least Mackey's committed to the environment, right? Right, except for the fact that he doesn't believe in climate change and frets over the impact that fighting climate change will have on his pocketbook:

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/waylon-lewis/john-mackey-whole-foods-...

http://firedoglake.com/2010/01/03/whole-foods-ceo-john-mackey-also-...

 

But at least they support good health, right? Right, as long as it includes things like buying healthy food from Whole Foods and allowing insurers to offer high-deductible plans that capriciously deny coverage on any number of conditions,  and as long as it doesn't involve things like holding doctors responsible for egregious medical mistakes or other things in our pesky recent healthcare reform that threaten his bottom line:

 

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204251404574342170072...

(Note also that  his portrayal of Canadian and UK health care is deceptive. Saying workers choose supplemental insurance because they don't want govt insurance is  like saying poor people spend cash on food b/c they don't want govt food programs-in reality they use both, and in this way, Mackey's point suggests that Canada's and the UK need to offer more govt healthcare, not less. Still, here is an example of some employee choice-they get to vote on their health plans. Do they have infinite options? Based on every how every company I have ever worked for presented its paltry list of 5-6 401k plans to choose from, I'm guessing not.)

 

WF, as Michael Pollan notes in "The Omnivore's Dilemma" sells an image and a story as much as it sells food. Yet its CEO has engaged in duplicitous behavior in the past and is a Libertarian who agrees with much of Ayn Rand's views and supports many conservative causes that run contrary to the story and image it sells. (In addition to the above, see:

http://authenticorganizations.com/harquail/2008/10/27/organizationa...

http://www.newsmeat.com/ceo_political_donations/John_Mackey.php

 

Note that Harry Browne, whom Mackey gave $ to, proposed: dismantling social security and abolishing gun control laws, Medicare, government funding for education, and income tax. He's also for legalizing drugs and reducing our military spending significantly. Some of these ideas, I can get behind, but some seem dangerous and misguided. For those of you who opposed Domino's b/c of its CEO's support of conservative causes, it's food for thought.) 

 

Now, if people weigh all of the above against the fact that, yes, WF gives $ to good causes, and, yes, they carry local goods and are the 2nd largest seller of organic goods, and, yes, in some cases they treat some employees better than some of their competitors, then, by all means, support them. But I would caution against venerating or defending them too much, or assuming that they are on your side, politically, morally, or ethically. I would accept that they are far from perfect, and, arguably no better (and on some issues, worse) than some of their competitors, and I would acknowledge that we, the community of JP, do have a right to hold them accountable to be a good, responsible corporate neighbor through whatever legal channels are available.

 

My personal take is that Mackey and WF management have a hard time taking advice or orders from others, be they from above, from below, or from peers, and that some committed shareholders are slowly taking steps to correct that. I've shopped at WF before, love a lot of the employees that work there (esp. at Symphony), and hope that if they do come to JP, they'll offer all the cool fringe benefits that the other stores do, like free composting and recycling of odd stuff like corks and Brita filters. But that doesn't mean that there's no room for paying attention to where they've fallen short in the past and letting them know that we expect them to live up to a certain model of responsibility. Speaking of, if any of you have stock in WF, that is a route to effecting change in their corporate behavior in the long term. Pay attention to those annual stockholder resolutions, and maybe propose your own!

Comment by Pat Roberts on January 22, 2011 at 9:29pm

Dave, I read a quote from you in the Herald that said Whole Foods would probably need permits from the city for various things as they set up their operation, with the implication that you all (Neighborhood Council and other groups) would be waiting for them when they did, presumably to extort various things from them. It sounded like this was going to be payback for their not asking you if it was okay to open a store in JP. Would the Neighborhood Council actually hold up any permits they might need, because you wanted something from them?

Also, on this site you say that a series of community meetings is being planned so people can organize about the concerns they have about Whole Foods moving in.  The point of these meetings is what?  To keep Whole Foods out of JP?  To say they can only open their store here if they meet "the just demands of the community"?

Have you been reading the posts on this site?  Most people are very glad Whole Foods is coming, and also glad that Hi-Lo is leaving.  Some are sorry to see Hi-Lo go, but understand that they didn't attract enough customers, so couldn't stay in business.  This is just one grocery store leaving, and another one taking its place. 

Instead of wasting everyone's time and energy trying to make life difficult for Whole Foods, a business that actually wants to come to JP, maybe the Neighborhood Council, the NDC, and other interested groups could try to figure out how to attract more businesses to Hyde Square, to fill the many empty storefronts that are here.  That would be a true service to the community.

Comment by Dave Baron on January 22, 2011 at 6:07pm

A lot of people are looking for an in-person forum to talk about these issues.  The JPNC and Hyde Jackson Main Streets are sponsoring a meeting on the proposed WF in the first week of February -- the Hyde Square Task Force, Matt O'Malley, and JP Neighborhood Development Corporation are also co-sponsoring and will be helping to get the word out.  This will clearly not be the last community meeting on this subject, but it will be a first opportunity for folks to get together to start working on defining, answering, and/or organizing around the questions and concerns that have been raised in these message boards (and in small meetings throughout JP) over the few days. The date for the JPNC/Hyde Jackson Main Street meeting is not yet set (organizers are talking to WF to get a sufficiently high-level person who will be able to attend), but February 8th is looking likely. Hopefully, this will get finalized on Monday so we can all start working to get the word out into the community.

 

@Daniel Verinder - thanks for calling out the haters on the Herald website!  I was really amazed by some of the brutal and ignorant things people wrote in their comments on that story on Friday.  Though the story itself was also pretty uninformed.  I told the Herald reporter at least three times that the JPNC does NOT in fact oppose the WF - that the JPNC has not yet taken a position on the issue, but that the purpose of the  Neighborhood Council is to make sure the community has input into these kinds of proposed changes and that people’s questions and concerns are addressed.  But the Herald wants class warfare, or Sharks v. Jets or something, so they turned the JPNC into “Whole Foods Foes” and ignored all the stuff about a fair and open process.  I guess that's what sells papers.

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