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.