For the food market deprived—that would be anyone living in the area around 96th Street on the Upper West Side—yesterday was a big day as Whole Foods welcomed the neighborhood to an open house to preview the new store. While the food market won’t officially open until August 27—the liquor store is already operating—the market flung open its doors to introduce area residents to its layout and products.
Billed as a fundraiser for the Riverside Park Fund, the event was packed with young and old. Baby strollers were in abundance. So were lines for the copious free samples that were being dished out. There were crab cakes, chocolate, cookies, soup, and soda. Two cold soups, melon and carrot/ginger , by kosher maker Foremost Fresh, a New Jersey concern, were standouts.
Throughout the bi-level store, which is smaller than many others in the city, shelves were almost fully stocked with what we’ve come to expect from the organic and healthy foods purveyor. Lots of varieties of yogurt. A still-empty salad bar. Meat counters and fish counters. It was a bit strange, however, to be walking around a supermarket in which no one was pushing a shopping cart.
Many items were affixed with bright yellow sale stickers. Several people noted that despite its reputation for pricey fare, Whole Foods appeared to be competitive with other local food sellers.
In any event, happiness was in the air. Even among this famously liberal Upper West Side bunch, no one seemed too concerned about Whole Foods CEO John Mackey’s stand against the Obama Administrations push for health care reform.
“I’m thrilled” with the new market, said one middle aged man, who added that he was disgusted with existing neighborhood shopping options.
In a final gesture of welcome to the neighborhood, store personnel offered potted mums, which had adorned the two levels of the store, to anyone willing to cart the pots home.
Peering into the new Whole Foods opening Aug. 27th at 97th Street and Columbus Avenue, I can spot café tables and gleaming check-out counters.
Among the store’s offerings will be a stand-alone 1000-bottle wine shop—the first to grace any Whole Foods in New York—and a “grind your own” peanut butter station.
But the new store is drawing a mixed response from neighborhood residents. Along with its reputation for quality organics and healthy fare, Whole Foods appears to be dogged by its reputation as a high-priced emporium.
“I don’t think I’ll shop there. It’s too expensive,” said 33-year old Josh, who works in finance and who lives near the new market.“You have to have money to shop in that store,” agreed a woman parking her car alongside Park West Village, a complex of nearly 50-year old apartment buildings now surrounded by five luxury rental towers, one of which houses the Whole Foods market. Said Joel, a 33-year old advertising executive: “I’m nervous because it’s expensive” and “my wife will love it and go there every day.”
According to a Whole Foods spokesman, the store will be running weekly and bi-weekly specials. In addition, the Upper West Side store will offer consumers “value tours.” Employees will guide shoppers around the store to point out more economical options, like Whole Foods’ store brands and products that can be bought in bulk.
“In comparison to other supermarkets, our prices on like items are very competitive,” the spokesman insisted, pointing out that price comparisons between organic and conventional products are often difficult to make.
Putting Out the Welcome Mat
In fact, other neighborhood residents said they looked forward to the new store’s broad selection of healthy and organic offerings.
Pushing a baby stroller, Yani, 21, said she valued Whole Food’s reputation for “good, healthy food.” Others, like Leyda, a longtime resident of the neighborhood, admired the store’s sleek design. It’s “really nice,” she said.
And while tenants of Park West Village fought the construction of the new rental buildings, called Columbus Square, the arrival of Whole Foods appears to be winning favor, at least among some.
“A lot of people think Whole Foods is the only good thing about the project,” said a woman who answered the Park West Village Tenants’ Association hotline and who asked not to be identified.
Meanwhile, Whole Foods may have to contend with some ingrained shopping habits among Upper West Siders. Many area residents do their food shopping at a variety of stores while strolling up and down Broadway.
For example, longtime West End Avenue resident and mother of two, Marlene Lieberman, said that while she plans to patronize the new Whole Foods, she’ll continue to frequent local vendors like Zabar’s and Fairway.
Local Merchants Await the Newcomer
And how are neighborhood food merchants reacting to Whole Foods’ arrival?
Most, like Joon Ko, who operates his 17-year old fish market at 98th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, expressed confidence that their regular customers wouldn’t desert them.
Others are planning to directly challenge Whole Food’s bid for local customers’ loyalty.
Associated Foods, at 97th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, will be opening a new store with twice the square footage of the current space in a couple of months, according to Vinicio Ortiz, the store’s manager.
“We’re going to kill them,” he said, referring to his new competitor up the street.
September is a great time for a field trip to Hudson Valley farm country. You can join uber-cheesemistress Ann Saxelby for her annual Day A-Whey. Here are the details:
A Day A-Whey to Sprout Creek Farm and Terhune Orchard
Sunday, September 27th 2009
9:00 am to 7:00 pm
Trip begins and ends at Saxelby Cheesemongers, 120 Essex Street
for tickets ($95) and more info, visit saxelbycheese.com
Here’s what Ann has to say about her Day A-Whey:
Jump on the bus and come along on our Day A-Whey farm field trip to Sprout Creek Farm and Terhune Orchard! Join us on our chartered coach as we explore the finest of the Hudson Valley’s farm country at the peak of fall foliage.
The first stop on our Day A-Whey adventure is Sprout Creek Farm, where we’ll see first hand how fine farmstead cheese is made. After a tour of the farm and creamery, guests will be treated to a lavish picnic lunch featuring locally foraged foods and Sprout Creek cheeses. In the afternoon we’ll continue on to Terhune Orchard for a few hours of sunshine and apple picking. The coach will return to the city in the early evening after a full day of farm goodness!
Sprout Creek Farm, located just about an hour and a half north of the city in Poughkeepsie, was founded by nuns in the late 1980s as a place for children to reconnect with nature and learn about agriculture. After almost 30 years of agri-education, Sprout Creek has come to be one of the premier creameries in the country.
How to Get Your Day A-Whey: For tickets ($95) and information visit saxelbycheese.com
***Please note that the ticket price includes transportation, food, and apple picking***
My hubby was dying to see the autumn foliage. Since I have a brother to visit in the Green Mountain State, we figured we’d pop up to Vermont and do the leaf peeper thing. What we didn’t count on was 85 degree weather. It’s been so warm here that the leaves barely sport even a tiny bit of color.
Still, we pumped up the AC in the car to high and went searching for the elusive leaves. We found a few yellow and red clumps near Rutland. Better yet, we found WAAWWE Farm in Chester. A sign said: “farm market,” so we turned down a dirt road, past some happy looking cows munching on grass and pulled up to a barn. There, a guy was selling yummy unfiltered apple cider. In the bar and outside in the barnyard was a squad of pecking, squawking chickens, free-range, that’s for sure.
Inside the barn, a woman was selling intensely buttery cheese made form the milk of those happy cows I saw out in the pasture. There was also honey from the farm’s hives (we watched two guys in space suits taking apart the hive to harvest the honey), jams, quail eggs, and if you get there early enough, eggs from the chickens.
How happy are they? “The girls are very happy and they can’t wait to see me every morning,” insisted the woman selling us the farm fare, which also included the sweetest raspberries I’ve ever eaten. “When I drive up in the morning, they all come running. They know the sound of my car.”
Now those are chickens whose eggs are worth getting up early for.
157 Thompson Road
802 875 6576
Open daily 8 am-6pm except Wednesdays