March 22, 2011

When Hi-Lo Becomes Whole Foods

Hi-Lo Foods in Jamaica Plain, MA

I have lived in Jamaica Plain, MA for about 15 years. Known as JP, it is admired for its diversity, community involvement, and being a bastion of progressive politics. Our geography balances the gritty city with some of the city’s best green spots: Jamaica Pond and the Arnold Arboretum.

The businesses in JP have always been varied – from City Feed, an admittedly expensive cafe selling local, organic food, to Oriental de Cuba, serving authentic, delicious Cuban food to the Hi-Lo Foods, a local grocery store serving our community for the past 47 years with an emphasis on Latin food. Locally owned to serve our special local community.

News hit last week that Hi-Lo is closing and Whole Foods, a national grocery chain with an emphasis on natural and organic foods, is coming. The Boston Globe has editorialized about it as being an “epochal event.”

My friends have texted me to state it is the end of our neighborhood, letters to the editor are sent in to the JP Gazette chastising those with double strollers.

It made me wonder what makes up a community’s brand? A colleague of mine once pronounced Vermont as one of his favorite brands. I love it. Vermont is clearly identifiable in my mind. Vermont conjures up emotions, imagery, promised experiences – in short, a strong brand. Each city and state has a brand. Like businesses, some more identifiable and stronger than others – but they all exist.

Will JP change into something we’re not because of Whole Foods? I do not think the closing of Hi-Lo changes JP. JP will still have our local, independent restaurants and shops nearby. And we will assure Whole Foods hires JPers and has the food we need and expect in our community.

What defines the brand of a community is much deeper than one or two stores. Whole Foods will not define JP. If Whole Foods lives up to their promise to care about our communities and our environment, JP will help evolve Whole Foods to be a better place that better serves their community.

I hope they are ready.

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