WBUR

Mixed Reactions To Whole Foods Store Opening In Jamaica Plain

Shoppers outside of the Hi-Lo supermarket in Jamaica Plain (Nick Dynan for WBUR)

BOSTON — An important institution for Boston’s Latino community is closing. Hi-Lo Foods in Jamaica Plain has been selling food and household goods from around Latin America for 47 years. The management is retiring and the owners will lease the property to Whole Foods, the upscale supermarket chain. Many residents see the change as another step in Jamaica Plain’s gentrification.

Many residents see the change as another step in Jamaica Plain’s gentrification.

Elizabeth Muriel and her mother, Petra Nunez, drove all the way from Lynn Wednesday to shop at Hi-Lo. There are closer places they could buy Puerto Rican ingredients like yucca and plantains, but they make this trip at least twice a month.

“It’s the tradition I guess,” Nunez says, “ever since we moved here from Puerto Rico.”

Just down the street, Aida Lopez owns a gift shop. She sells specialty items for quinceañeras, the traditional coming-out party for 15-year-old girls in Latin America. She says her neighborhood has changed dramatically since she moved here from Cuba in 1970. A few years ago her Catholic Church closed and is being converted to condos. Now Hi-Lo is leaving.

Gift shop owner Aida Lopez says her neighborhood has changed dramatically since she moved here from Cuba in 1970. (Nick Dynan for WBUR)

When she moved here, she said, everyone was Irish or Italian. Then Cubans moved in and Puerto Ricans.

“The Cubans left for Miami once they made some money,” she says in Spanish. “Puerto Ricans went to other cities. And now it’s mostly Dominicans and young Americans moving into the neighborhood.”

Jessica Irizarry comes into the store to order an embroidered ribbon for her cousin’s quinceañera. She’s just heard about Hi-Lo.

“What is everybody going to do? Go to Stop and Shop now? At Stop and Shop, the price is off the roof. Stop and Shop is for people who can throw their money away,” Irizarry says.

But Irizarry hadn’t heard which store would replace Hi-Lo.

“Whole Foods is replacing Hi-Lo’s?” she says. “That’s bull. That is bull. Well good luck with that. That’s all I’m going to say.”

At the other end of Jamaica Plain’s main drag, I caught up with customers at City Feed. It’s a boutique sandwich shop with a small selection of gourmet and organic groceries. Shoppers there were generally excited about the new Whole Foods, although they worried it might compete with locally-owned stores like City Feed.

That didn’t seem to bother Philip Celeste.

“I think it’s great. We need more places to shop here,” Celeste says. He’s not sad about losing Hi-Lo.

“It just didn’t have the products that I wanted to buy. It seemed kind of dirty.”

Hi-Lo has been selling food and household goods from Latin America for 47 years. (Nick Dynan for WBUR)

Celeste wasn’t the only person to call Hi-Lo “dirty.” Long-time shopper Pedro Ramos said he thought Whole Foods would be a major upgrade for his neighborhood.

Hi-lo “is antiquated,” he says in Spanish. The food is of “poor quality” and he claims he’s seen rats there, and the food they sell has expired. He thinks Jamaica Plain is taking a big step forward and the community “deserves it.”

This is a story where I’ve got strong opinions of my own. Dirty or not, I’ll miss Hi-Lo. It’s one of the first places I went when I moved to Boston. I was looking for recao, a Puerto Rican herb, that’s sort of a cross between cilantro and basil, and used in everything from beans to fricassee. That’s when I discovered Hi-Lo sells the largest selection of Mate, the South American tea that Uruguayans and Argentinians suck down like addicts through blazing hot metal straws. I go back whenever I need a fix.

But the best part was hearing Spanish spoken from all corners of the Americas. Walking into Hi-Lo was like getting teleported to Miami. Even in January, it made me feel a little bit warmer.

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  • Checkerout

    Once Whole Foods arrives, few will be missing Hi-Lo.

  • http://www.facebook.com/emelenciano Edwin Ray Melenciano

    TO BE HONEST AN ENTIRE COMMUNITY IS MISSING HI-LO BUT WE ARE SO USED TO BEING STEPPED ON AND DEALING WITH GENTRIFICATION THAT PEOPLE ARE TRYING TO LOOK AT THE GOOD BECAUSE THAT IS ALL THEY FEEL THEY CAN DO. IN JP THERE ARE ALREADY MANY HEALTHY ALTERNATIVES AND WHOLE FOODS IS NOT NEEDED. WHOLE FOODS IS WANTED IF YOU ASK ME FOR ITS STATUS SYMBOL MORE THAN ITS MATERIALS. AS I SAID WE IN JP ALREADY HAVE EVERYTHING THAT WHOLE FOODS WOULD OFFER, AND THEN SOME.

    -EDWIN MELENCIANO

  • http://www.facebook.com/emelenciano Edwin Ray Melenciano

    TO BE HONEST AN ENTIRE COMMUNITY IS MISSING HI-LO BUT WE ARE SO USED TO BEING STEPPED ON AND DEALING WITH GENTRIFICATION THAT PEOPLE ARE TRYING TO LOOK AT THE GOOD BECAUSE THAT IS ALL THEY FEEL THEY CAN DO. IN JP THERE ARE ALREADY MANY HEALTHY ALTERNATIVES AND WHOLE FOODS IS NOT NEEDED. WHOLE FOODS IS WANTED IF YOU ASK ME FOR ITS STATUS SYMBOL MORE THAN ITS MATERIALS. AS I SAID WE IN JP ALREADY HAVE EVERYTHING THAT WHOLE FOODS WOULD OFFER, AND THEN SOME.

    -EDWIN MELENCIANO

  • Shopper

    Why is no one covering the employment and responsibility aspect of this story. Whole Foods is ranked #24 on Fortune’s list of 100 best companies to work for. It’s one of only 13 companies in the United States to be ranked consecutively for 14 years. Whole Foods will be employing a multiple of the number of people employed at Hi-Lo. This isn’t McDonalds or WalMart, I don’t know why so many people are painting them as another irresponsible national corporation moving into the community-this is exactly the sort of merchant a community should want.

  • yuppie

    Is gentrification a bad thing? Everyone’s property value goes up.

  • Moreno

    What neighborhood Hasn’t changed since 1970???
    I am please to have the neighborhood heading in a positive direction. A responsible employer with quality product.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=528364122 Anonymous

    Just heard the audio on the radio. It is amazing the Boston Accent that Aida Lopez has after living in Boston since the 70′s.

    And those damn Americans moving into JP.

  • My two cents

    Whole Foods is great if you want to pay 10 dollars for a jar of pickles. Sure they help support worth wild causes but at the end of the day they are racking in the cash for themselves with their overpriced items. Then again we in this country are very spoiled. If our biggest problem is fighting over a supermarket I think we have it made!

    • cwaggy

      I never paid more than 6.99 for aforementioned pickles but they were good.

  • Davidwilliams

    looks like hi-lo management sold out. they are more interested in making money than helping the latino community.blame it on the management. its a big lose to j.p.

    it was the best latino market in the state. big variety of ethnic foods and spices. big brands from central/south america. very cheap prices on produce.

    the people that say it was a dirty place are just uppity yuppies that would never survive in a third world country. latino markets are not famous for being clean, but they are rich in character and food.

    where do the latinos shop now? the majority of latinos in j.p. dont have the money to shop at the over-priced whole foods. what crap this is!

    • Clean food is good.

      “the people that say it was a dirty place are just uppity yuppies that would never survive in a third world country.”

      Uhh, we don’t live in a third world country and don’t want to.  Thanks though.  Feel free to try One of these grocery stores: 

      http://goo.gl/maps/SxV3

  • cwaggy

    BRING IT ON!!!!!!!!

  • Dr CLester

    whole foods is a corporation plain and simple…therefore profit is god and appearing conscientious only serves to amass more of it

    Mackey didn’t start and build up Whole Foods to protect the planet…he saw a growing niche market and wanted to be a top dawg business man yedig

  • Nikki

    After reading bunch of comments to the article, I can’t stop wondering how many people of those who said Wholefoods is too expensive had actually shopped there. I have an chances to shop at Roche Brothers, Shaws and Stop and Shop and Wholefoods and now I find myself only going to Wholefoods if possible- their own brand cheaper than everywhere else! Plus they run specials all the time and it makes it even cheaper. Yes, if you want to get  organic Oreo cookies or something like that etc, you will have to pay more but duh, so would you in any other store. What is wrong with having a nice clean store that promotes health, recycling, and  promotes living green? 
    Do you know that the company pays their cashiers the highest hourly rate by choice? Is it related to the fact that when I go to their stores, every single employee is smiling and seems genuinely happy to help? I think so. Why do they have to be responsible for previous tenant of the building who decided to retire? Yes, they are big corporations but as someone mentioned, they are one of the best employers to work for. It is an upscale supermarket not because of the prices but because of the quality of the food and the service.I know I sounded like a Wholefoods employee but I am not :) I am a resident of JP and I have lived/shopped at many places be able to compare.  I think this is great for the neighborhood and the real estate market and once the store opens everyone will appreciate what it has to offer.

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