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Whole Foods Comes Out in Chicago

Regular sound-and-fury boycotts from the American Family Association aside, it isn’t all that risky for major corporations to associate themselves with Teh Gay by sponsoring pride festivals or putting ads in The Advocate. Most Americans don’t actively despise us enough to swear off their Bud Light just because of the full-page glossies depicting two hot guys holding hands, and even if they do it’s easy for them to frame gay-friendly ad campaigns as companies simply tapping into a market that seems to have more spare cash on hand than the average non-Halliburton shareholder demographic.

But installing your retail store as the anchor of a shiny new GLBT community center is a stronger statement more akin to sticking your neck out, and that’s what Whole Foods has done in Chicago.

Having Whole Foods as a tenant provides the East Lakeview neighborhood with an upscale grocery store and the community center with income to help its endowment, but it also provides potential clients a discreet gateway into the center, said Modesto Tico Valle, executive director of the non-profit center.

The Whole Foods store has its own set of doors on Halsted Street. But it also has a side entrance that spills into the center’s expansive lobby, where there will be tables and seating for 50 around a fireplace and easy access to the center’s elevators.

“There’s a lot of people that are still struggling with coming-out issues,” he said. “We’re definitely setting the benchmark when you’re talking about a comprehensive center.”

Of course marketing research had everything to do with this, and of course the typical Whole Foods customer is more likely to support gay rights than, say, the typical Kroger’s customer, and maybe I shouldn’t be so pleased that a major store has decided damn the torpedoes and go after gay people’s wallets too.

Although Whole Foods is thought to be the first retailer of its size to anchor a gay community center in the U.S., the retailer views its location as more of a gold mine than a gamble, given the population density of its neighborhood just east of Wrigley Field and its demographics.

But I am.

Even ten years ago I doubt a company would have taken this step. I’m not holding my breath for an AFA boycott, but a girl can hope.

cross-posted at Boltgirl On The Loose

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