A community, not just a store

A community, not just a store

THE REPLACEMENT of Hi-Lo Foods with a new Whole Foods Market will be an epochal event, not just for the changing neighborhood of Jamaica Plain but also for the Latino community that Hi-Lo has served for 47 years.

The current store is hardly the most modern of supermarkets, but what it lacks in sophistication it’s made up for in true calor and sabor — the warmth and flavor that drew a devoted following among Latinos. It’s been the place where Colombians claim to find the best-tasting corn arepas, where Mexicans have gone for the “real’’ tortillas, where Puerto Ricans found the right kind of frying cheese and the best plantains. More importantly, Hi-Lo is less expensive than the chain supermarkets peppered elsewhere, which helped many struggling families put food on their table.

That’s one reason why this week’s announcement of the planned Whole Foods — an upscale chain often criticized for “whole paycheck’’ prices — has led to such soul-searching in Jamaica Plain. The organic-foods giant has been both a symbol and an agent of urban gentrification, so its arrival in Jamaica Plain poses broader questions about the future of the neighborhood’s diversity.

In a statement, the Whole Foods team expressed an eagerness to “become active members of such a strong, diverse neighborhood and to open a store that is reflective of that vibrant community.’’ The company must make good on that promise. It can do so by hiring many of the 45 Hi-Lo employees left without work, supporting community programs that cater to the area’s underserved families, and making sure the store offers at least some of the reasonably priced Latino brands so loved by local residents.

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