San Francisco prizes independent, small businesses with proprietors who are involved in their communities. Janene Summerland, store manager of the Ocean Avenue Whole Foods, proves that corporate stakeholders can be local activists too.
Besides her role at Whole Foods, where she manages operations and a large staff, she is a full-time student at San Francisco State University and, as of last year, she joined the Ocean Avenue Association board of directors and chairs its Business Committee.
Her career at Whole Foods Market began 20 years ago.
“My goal was that I wanted to work for a company that I believed in and I wanted to work in a company that had really great customer service,” she said.
She narrowed it down to two companies that fit the bill: Nordstroms and Whole Foods. Knowing nothing about the fashion industry, she chose the latter.
Summerland grew up in Los Angeles, where she started her career in the food industry, running a restaurant called Foxy’s for 12 years.
“It was interesting for me coming up to the Bay Area and seeing the restaurant industry here and how cutthroat it was,” Summerland said. “[The industry] really doesn’t take care of the people that give so much to it, which is unfortunate.”
Summerland started as a bakery supervisor in the Whole Foods store at California and Franklin. She worked her way up through the company.
“Janene is awesome because she is able to understand for our company the importance of community and the importance of culture,” said Whole Foods employee Ian O’Donnell. “She’s the kind of person when you work with her you get excited to come to work because she very much inspires people.”
Two years ago she went back to school, attending San Francisco State to finish her degree in Liberal studies with a minor in History. Summerland’s motivation is not vocational, but educational.
“I love my career,” she said. “Finishing college was on my bucket list.”
Fond of wearing light-colored knitted sweaters, and often rolls up her sleeves to display her tattoos, Summerland is also a shipwreck diver in her spare time.
In addition to her professional and academic endeavors, Summerland decided last year to become a board member of the Ocean Avenue Association, a community benefit district charged with maintaining and enhancing the commercial corridor.
“I joined the OAA mostly because I think it’s a really great organization,” Summerland said. “The goal of Whole Foods coming into any community is to help revitalize that community and help that community have sustainable good food. So what the OAA tries to do really lines up with that.”
Summerland is also the chairperson of the OAA’s newly formed Business Committee, which addresses issues of concern to all businesses within the Community Benefit District. “I took it on because it really matters to me.” She is presently working with District Seven Supervisor Norman Yee’s office to organize an event for merchants for Small Business Month in May.
“Janene is extraordinarily committed to working with the OAA and to improving the Ocean Avenue retail district,” OAA Executive Director Dan Weaver said.
The Business Committee discusses issues of storefront vacancies and business attraction. Businesses that wish to open on the corridor introduce themselves to the Business Committee and get a show of support or suggestions of resources.
“Janene goes above and beyond her duties on the board. In her role at Whole Foods she has provided a great deal of support to our efforts on the OAA Business Committee. She also goes out of her way to engage with other businesses on the avenue in a personal way. It’s clear from her actions that Janene really does care about our community and is a joy to work with,” committee member Mary Dickow said.
Summerland lives in Parkside and often walks to work. She hopes one day to retire and be able to walk down Ocean Avenue with an abundance of great places to eat and shop all within a safe environment.
“I want to be a part of that change,” she said.
This article first appeared in The Light’s April 2016 print edition.