Whole Foods is Killing the South Street Harvest

SECOND UPDATE: The Coop announced it will close the South Street store in mid-April.

UPDATE: The Harvest Coop board has announced it has made a decision — but hasn’t made that decision public yet.

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Members of Harvest Coop packed a board meeting Monday night to talk about the possible shuttering of the communally-run grocer’s South Street location.

Only members of the coop were allowed in to the tiny Forest Hills Street room where the meeting was held. As resident Kendra Nordin reports, the meeting was held in two shifts to accommodate all 60 people who showed up.

“That meant 30 of us waited outside in the 20 degree weather for a half hour,” Nordin wrote in an email to Jamaica Plain News. “It shows the level of interest and commitment to keeping the store open!”

The patio outside the Harvest Coop on South Street

Chris Helms

The patio outside the Harvest Coop on South Street

At issue is the soon-to-expire lease at 57 South St. The local grocery chain is in talks with landlord Dean Rusk.

Late Tuesday afternoon, Lila Givens and the grocery chain’s board of directors announced they’d come to a decision.

“Thank you to everyone who came out to the Board Meeting last night. It was a very productive discussion and we’re grateful for your investment in Harvest. We wanted to send out an immediate update and let you know that the board was able to make a decision last night. The process is still unfolding and we’ll send out communication through an official announcement soon.”

As patrons of the South Street store know, the building needs repairs and the layout can be cumbersome to navigate. Harvest opened a second JP location near Forest Hills Station. The stores are .7 miles apart. That’s a walk of roughly 15 minutes.

Nordin said the board asked the landlord to lower the rent and move to a year-to-year lease. He countered with a month-to-month deal at the same rent, she said.

“Board members are looking at how to increase member involvement/participation/support at the Arboretum store,” she wrote. That store is growing in membership and outpaces South Street in revenue.

One interesting fact emerged from Monday’s session: Since Whole Foods opened in JP in October 2011, revenue at the South Street Harvest has plummeted 38-40 percent, Nordin wrote.

Givens, in a Tuesday afternoon email, said the board was “humbled by the turnout of members and we’re very thankful for their support of Harvest.”

In what sounds a lot like an admission South Street will close, Nordin reported the board members saying that attempts to make a sustainability plan for the South Street store have failed.

Nordin also posted her notes on NextDoor.com, a network of private social networks by neighborhood.

Non-members weren’t allowed in, as is usual for Harvest’s board meetings. That didn’t sit will with resident Sebastian Zapata.

[Editor’s note: This item has been updated with statements from the Harvest Coop Board of Directors.]

  • L.J.

    The South Street Harvest was killed by the folllowing: failed store layout and organization, lack of cleanliness and deferred maintenance, poor quality of produce & butcher options (the store often actually smells), and finally the cannibalization of their own revenue by opening a second location less than 1 mile away. I was loyal to the Cambridge Harvest when I lived there, but South Street has always been quite grim in comparison. Much easier to reference the rent and Whole Foods than address the real problems at that store. Since it is a coop the blame can’t shift to a faceless corporation; thus this is an entirely self-inflicted wound.

  • h_illary

    I’m confused about the statement that membership is increasing at the Forest Hills location. Membership in Harvest is not tied to any particular location, as far as I know. Maybe this means new members who join at that location?

  • JG

    It would be interesting to see how much of that 38-40% decline in revenue is due to the opening of the new store in January 2013 less than a mile away from the South Street location. I don’t think it is fair to place the blame solely on Whole Foods.

  • jpregressive

    Wow Chris, quite a hack job of an article. Nice clickbait title though…..

    Can you point us all to the study that indicates the failure of this store is due to WF instead of a) a horrid layout and b) the puzzling decision to open another, superior store less than a mile away? Thanks in advance….

    • JamaicaPlainNews

      Hi jpregressive, thanks for the comment. I pulled out one of the bullet points from the report of someone who was at the meeting whom I trust.

      • jpregressive

        Chris, you can’t be serious. I assume you mean this quote:

        “Since Whole Foods opened in JP in October 2011, revenue at the South Street Harvest has plummeted 38-40 percent, Nordin wrote.”

        You can’t be suggesting that this establishes causation? Or are you?

        And if it does, why in the world would Harvest open ANOTHER store a year after WF came into town, within a mile of the old store, if they knew that even ONE store couldn’t be sustained with WF in the picture? That doesn’t make any sense.

        • JamaicaPlainNews

          Thanks again. You make excellent points. It’s just a headline, not a scientific thesis.

          • jpregressive

            I see. As long as we both agree it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with reality.

            It is attention-grabbing, so it should generate some clicks. Good luck.

  • mjb918

    Having shopped at Harvest since it opened at South Street, and at the market that preceded it (the name escapes me it was so long ago) I can testify to the fact that the earlier incarnation smelled genuinely foul. In fact, I don’t notice an odor that is off-putting at South Street, but that may be because I had experienced far worse, and am grateful for the improvement, and convenience of a market on this end of JP. I believe the problem may lay in the fact that it’s an old frame building which has absorbed years of funk. It is now, as they say, baked in.

    In any event, it’s a shame they intend to close. With the Casey slated to begin demolition any day, I wonder how the Forest Hills location will fare.