Gentrification in Harlem is evident as you walk along 125th Street from St. Nicholas Avenue to Malcolm X Boulevard, where the historic neighborhood’s first Whole Foods just opened.
Amid landmarks like the Apollo Theater and Hotel Theresa and longtime businesses such as Jimmy Jazz are newer neighbors like Red Lobster, Banana Republic and that 40,000-square-foot Whole Foods, which opened last Friday in the lower levels of a complex housing an Olive Garden, Burlington, American Eagle and Raymour & Flanigan.
A steady stream of patrons flowed in and out of Whole Foods Tuesday morning, on their way into and out of the nearby 2/3 station, or, like G. “Lucky” Jones, who lives around the corner on 124th Street, waiting for a bus.
“Look around you. Of course it’s an improvement,” she said. “I’m glad it’s in the neighborhood.”
Larmont McAllister, who was sitting next to Jones, said that if it “gives jobs for the community, it’ll be a great thing.”
With the new Whole Foods came 200 new jobs, with “around 35” of them filled by Central Harlem residents, according to a statement from the company. There are also hiring partnerships with local organizations, including Hot Bread Kitchen, which the company has been working with since 2011.
Five percent of opening day sales went toward local charity Harlem Grown, and products from The Harlem Pie Man, Sylvia’s, Egunsi Foods and more than a dozen other Harlem brands are available. Additionally, the new store includes Whole Foods’ first-ever kebab grill serving Mediterranean fare as well as its first Cuban food and coffee venues.
“I feel bad for the local businesses, the street guys,” said Jose Valdez, who works nearby.
One bodega owner who asked not to be named said that he is a “little nervous” about Whole Foods opening, “but it’s too soon to tell” how it may affect his business.
Shakir Ansari, however, who runs a fruit stand on the corner of 126th Street and Malcolm X Boulevard, has already seen a change less than a week after the market opened.
“Our customers are still coming to us because we’re much, much cheaper,” he said as he counted out change for several customers. “I’m delighted my sales have increased.”
Though the dozen or so New Yorkers that Metro interviewed for this story were positive about the new Whole Foods, some do see its presence negatively.
One Twitter user said that “white people really know no boundries,” while another called it the “absolute final nail in Harlem’s coffin.”
Harlem got a Whole Foods now? White people really know no boundaries lmao— slim. (@oldirtyjesus) July 23, 2017
The absolute final nail in Harlem's coffin opens on Friday. cc: @WholeFoods— Mr. Perfect (@theNUPE) July 17, 2017
Kristy Lyons lives on 126th Street and tweeted on July 10 that her life and neighborhood were about to change with the opening of Whole Foods.
Didn't realize the Harlem Whole Foods open next week. My whole life (and neighborhood) bout to change 😩— Kristy L. (@KristySeymone) July 11, 2017
She told Metro via phone that Whole Foods' arrival causes her mixed feelings.
"I'll like having food that’s good for me, but I hate that it pushes the blackness out of the community. I hate the implications that come with the changing demographic. There are very few monuments to black history remaining.”