A New Supermarket Brings Hope to Detroit

A brand new Whole Foods opens in an economically depressed city where access to high-quality food is hard to come by.

Posted: 06/05/2013 12:16 PM EDT

REPORTING FROM DETROIT

A marching band and cheerleaders performed. The mayor, city council president and city officials attended in large numbers as did clergy and business leaders. To say the least, the opening of the Whole Foods supermarket in Detroit’s Midtown area was no ordinary affair.

The long-anticipated opening of the large supermarket in this economically depressed city on Wednesday morning was a moment of unbridled celebration. Whole Foods is now one of the only large-scale supermarkets in this city of 700,000 residents. City officials say it is a symbol of the Detroit of the future, a harbinger of development to come in a city that is littered with abandoned buildings and blight.

“This is a new day for the city of Detroit,” Mayor Dave Bing said, addressing a cheering crowd, which included many of the 100 workers now employed at the supermarket.

“The opening of the first Whole Foods Market in Detroit is a game changer for our city,” Bing said. “Not only does it offer central-city residents more choices and more convenience for grocery shopping, it also proves that Detroit is an attractive destination for national retailers.”

Yet, the opening of Whole Foods in the up-and-coming Midtown area — one of few relative affluent and racially mixed areas of the city — highlights the great disparity of supermarket access in the majority of this city. Detroit is a city where nearly 40 percent of the population — and nearly 60 percent of children — live in poverty.

“Many of the neighborhoods in this city are known as nutrition deserts because we don’t have access to vegetables and other nutritious foods,” said the Rev. James Perkins, the pastor of the Greater Christ Baptist Church on Detroit’s East Side and a social activist in the city, speaking with BET.com.

“Our kids’ only option is to go to the corner store and they have nothing but sugar and salt,” Perkins said. “Also, the products at Whole Foods are priced out of the range of the average citizen.”

Nonetheless, the opening of the Whole Foods store was celebrated as the beginning of a new age for Detroit. Also, a new Meijer supermarket is scheduled to open later this year. It is seen as a means of reversing the pattern of residents of Detroit spending vast sums of money every year shopping in suburban stores.

“We’ve worked toward this day for nearly five years,” said Walter Robb, co-CEO of Whole Foods Market. “We’re inspired by what Detroiters are doing for this great city. They are our partners, our neighbors, our team members and our friends. We couldn’t be prouder or happier to be part of the mix.”

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(Photo: Jonathan P. Hicks)

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