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Beacon St. residents hesitant about new Whole Foods

With Brookline grocery store Johnnie’s Food Master closed and a Whole Foods coming soon, some Brookline residents said Johnnie’s was better for the neighborhood than Whole Foods will be.

“I’m unhappy with Johnnie’s selling,” said Brookline resident Ginny Wilcox, who has lived on Beacon Street for more than 35 years. “Nobody held a gun to their head — I like Whole Foods, but Johnnie’s is better for the neighborhood.”

Johnnie’s, a family grocery business based in Chelsea for more than 50 years, sold to the organic food world’s chief retailer Whole Foods in October.

Johnnie’s last day open was Nov. 18, but Whole Foods aims to remodel Johnnie’s stores and open by the end of the 2013 fiscal year, according to a Whole Foods press release.

“We are so pleased that Mr. [John] DeJesus, [second generation president of Johnnie’s] has given us this opportunity at a time when we are looking to expand our presence in greater Boston,” said Laura Derba, president of Whole Foods Market’s North Atlantic region, in the press release.

Wilcox, a volunteer member of Brookline’s food pantry, said Johnnie’s always had a wide selection of foods for the needy and accommodated the food bank.

“They [Johnnie’s employees] were really nice,” she said. “They would give us a bill as opposed to making us pay at the cash register and having everything ready.”

Wilcox said the food pantry is suffering now that Johnnie’s closed.

“That was a really big void for us at the food pantry, to suddenly not have them, for all the extras that the people wanted,” she said.

Charles Kenney, a resident of Brookline who also lives on Beacon Street, said he shopped at Johnnie’s “all the time,” but said it is unlikely he would begin to shop at Whole Foods.

“I think it’s going to be higher priced,” he said.

But Paul Laemmle, who has lived on the Brookline-Boston line for almost 13 years, said he was looking forward to the new Whole Foods despite their higher prices.

“I’m rather glad Whole Foods is moving in,” Laemmle said.

Laemmle said he was from the Whole Foods home of Austin, Texas, and was excited to see the chain come to his neighborhood.

“Whole Foods, politically, is not a very good store,” he said. “But food-wise, I think it is.”

Laemmle said a Whole Foods would provide alternatives to other grocery stores around Brookline.

“I like Whole Foods,” he said. “They’re overpriced, but you do get what you pay for to a certain level so I will shop there some — not a lot— but I’m glad to have another choice in the neighborhood.”

Still, some grocery stores around the area seem unfazed by the transaction and said they are not worried about a new possible competitor.

Renyson Gomes, an employee at Brookline’s Kurkman’s Market, a family-based grocery store, said Whole Foods is not a threat. Gomes noted that Kurkman’s history and community ties, not to mention its lower prices, will continue to bring in customers.

“It’s not really going to affect us because we’ve been here for many years, almost 95 and up,” Gomes said.

“We have customers come here because they feel it’s a family,” he added.

Gomes said, however, that each year sales go up at Kurkman’s.

“We’ve been doing this for a while,” he said. “It’s never been a problem if something closes down or opens up, thanks to us, so no, we’re not really concerned.”

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