I’ve been skimming Organic, Inc by Fromartz; he was inspired to investigate the organics movement in part by the whole Whole Foods Market ascendancy. Like Fromartz, I’ve been seduced, fully and happily, by the clean aisles, the piled high conventional and organic produce and the prettily packaged fair-trade parcels. And like many other New Yorkers, I’ve watched as Whole Foods gobbles up precious real estate faster than you can say Benetton. How did this happen? How did we get here? How did WF become the only grocery store where I want to shop?
My first visit to a WF was in Owings Mills, Maryland whilst visiting a college girlfriend and her soon-to-be husband back in 1995ish. I was a lacto-ovo vegetarian and the selection of fresh produce and cool, new veggie products floored me. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, any grocery store outside of NYC is a revelation of what shopping could and should be.
The next time I visited one was in 2004 in LA. I was shopping with my then boyfriend, on a Saturday night in WeHo. It was packed. I mean, packed like the hottest spot in town. Blissful couples languidly strolled the aisles, healthy-looking singletons checked each other out and Michael Rapaport tried to keep his two kids in check. I loved it and thought what a shame that it would never work in NYC. [I also thought Chelsea Piers would flop. Don’t ask me to pick your winning horse, I guess.]
Luckily, my hunch was totally wrong. The old Mays spot on 14th street, which hadn’t been able to keep a large tenant, had announced WF was coming to town. And since the she-devil has arrived I can’t stop going; I miss it when I’m somewhere else, like Jersey. That is until I found the gorgeous one in Edgewater across the street from the home of the corporate offices.
Ok, ok. Beautiful produce is one thing and WF really doesn’t have the market cornered on that; the produce prices are much better at Fairway. But here’s what it sells, and you all know it: food shopping as virtue. I actually feel like I’m doing something good by shopping at WF. No, I swear they didn’t pay me to write this. They’ve done the work for of collecting the best local stuff, fair-trade stuff, and wrapped it an accessible red bow of goodness. Their marketing works and I’ve totally bought it.
Which makes this article even more interesting. Actually the most interesting thing in it to me--aside from the fact that I JUST realized that I completely ripped off shopping as virtue comment, oopsy—is the response by Mackey, corp head guy, that he will do better to deal with more local farmers. What CEO says he will do better? I’m even more sucked in to the WF love.
I’m certain after the honeymoon glow fades I will see more of the Oz behind the curtain but for now, I’m kicking myself I didn’t buy stock in 1995.