Working in close proximity to home can be an important decision for many Los Angeles residents, who often find themselves commuting many miles to and from work.

For Venice residents like Tim Grace, having the chance to work not only within blocks of his apartment but also for a company that he admires was an additional bonus.

“It’s like a dream come true,” said Grace, one of dozens of local employees who have been hired to work at the new Whole Foods Market at Lincoln Boulevard and Rose Avenue in Venice.

The grocery chain, known for selling natural and organic seafood, poultry and produce, held its grand opening on September 3rd at the site formerly occupied by Pic ‘N’ Save and most recently by Big Lots.

Several of the local workers were on hand to greet customers, operate cash registers and stock shelves during the new store’s first week of operation.

Hiring local residents from the surrounding neighborhoods was part of a concerted effort by the popular grocery chain to promote community spirit. Whole Foods representatives held a job fair prior to opening their Venice store, where it actively sought potential employees who lived near the store, and its endeavors were rewarded when dozens of local residents applied and were subsequently hired for various positions at its new location.

Approximately 75 of the new store’s 200 employees reside in nearby neighborhoods, according to Whole Foods representatives.

Grace, who lives five blocks from the Venice store, said he has been a Whole Foods customer for years, and was ecstatic when he learned that there could be an opportunity to work so close to home.

“On a whim, I came to the job fair that they had and they brought me on,” he said.

Another Whole Foods employee, Matthew Healy, enjoys seeing customers and residents who shop at his store and next door at the 99¢ Only Store mingle and interact with each other.

“I like the fact that there’s a 99¢ Only Store next to us, where we’re all on the same block,” said Healy, a 25-year Venice resident, who works in the prepared foods section. “If you like Venice and you live here long enough, you’ll like that mixture of different people.”

Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl can identify with the residents who longed to have a grocery store within walking distance of their homes.

“I can remember that I always wanted to have a store where I could shop that was close to where I lived,” said Rosendahl, who at one time lived a few blocks west of where Whole Foods is now located. “People who live in east Santa Monica and in Venice can now walk to a store close to home that has fresh produce and organic, healthy food.”

Rosendahl said that he insisted that the grocery chain make an effort to hire local residents to work in the new location.

“[Representatives of Whole Foods] came to me about a year and a half ago with a proposal to build a store in Venice, and I made it very clear to them that it was very important to hire local employees,” the councilman explained. “By hiring people from the community, Whole Foods is showing its commitment to being an integral part of the Venice community and that they want to provide economic opportunities for local employees.”

A group of Venice nonprofit and community-based organizations that formed a coalition called the Venice Community Alliance also took an interest in seeing that local residents were chosen as part of Whole Foods’ staff.

“We knew that Whole Foods was going to be moving in, so we thought that this would be a good time to start talking to them about hiring low-income residents from the community,” said Michelle Prichard, who chairs the board of directors of Venice Community Housing Corporation. “We were encouraged that Whole Foods was very committed to the notion of not only hiring low-income local residents, but also meeting the standard of paying a living wage to their employees.”

Both Healy and Grace are pleased to see a number of their neighbors and locals shop at the new store.

“My wife and children were here recently,” Healy said. “It’s stunning to see how this area is being transformed.”

“Our prices are pretty reasonable too,” added Grace, who works in Whole Foods’ maintenance department.

Grace admires his new employer for being involved with various community-based organizations that have maintained an active presence in Venice for several years.

“They’re really involved with the community,” he said. “It was exciting to hear that they were coming to Venice.”

Mike Bowen, the Venice Whole Foods team leader, is happy to have the local residents as a part of his team.

“Through the job fair, we hired about 75 local people, and it’s been a huge success,” he said. “It’s been a success because they can walk or bike to work, they see friends and family coming in to shop, and it’s turned out to be a great experience for everybody.”

Officials of the Venice Family Clinic — another member of the Venice Community Alliance — which is located three blocks from Whole Foods, feel that the addition of the organic grocery chain to the neighborhood is a very good sign that the surrounding area is changing.

“Venice welcomes Whole Foods Market, and we look forward to working with them to ensure their strong support for our community needs,” said Elizabeth Benson Forer, chief executive officer of the Venice Family Clinic.

Lena Pereira, the Venice store’s marketing director, sees having employees who live in the surrounding neighborhoods as a plus for a variety of reasons.

“It’s great to have our Venice team members here, because they know about the community and through them we’re able to know about local events that we can take part in,” she noted.

Bowman, the Venice Whole Foods team leader, agrees.

“As individuals, they’re all very special,” he said. “They’re very unique. They love the food that we’re selling, it’s their lifestyle. So you take these individuals and you put them into a team and you’ve got a greater bond that works unbelievably well.”

Local artwork adorns one of the store’s walls, the once dingy parking lot is clean, and chairs and umbrellas where customers can sit and read while sipping their coffee outside the store serve as an incentive for locals to take pride in their new Whole Foods Market, which for many now doubles as a place of employment.

“Whole Foods is a first-class store and a great addition to the Venice community,” asserted Rosendahl, who says he shops frequently at Whole Foods.

Grace was all smiles as he looked around the store, minutes from where he lives.

“Our community deserves a store with high-quality merchandise and reasonable prices, and now we have one,” he said.

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