Right store, wrong place
October 26, 2007
Whole Foods at Willits is the right store in the wrong place. If Lipkin can keep the debate narrowly focused, and overly simplified, the question is shaped as, “Do you want Whole Foods?”
Once we widen the scope of conversation, the question becomes, “Do you want Whole Foods at Willits no matter what the consequences are?” It isn’t a “growth vs. no growth” conversation. The discussion is about what is good for the heart and soul of our town.
It has been three and a half years since the folks inside town hall encouraged an open house to inform, and listen to, the people outside of town hall. The last time citizens checked in about policy issues three things were clear:
We do not want big boxes.
We favor pedestrian friendly over car friendly.
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We will strive to make most of our businesses locally owned.
The developers need us to forget our goals and think about the convenience of a Whole Foods in Basalt. Decisions driven by convenience are a model from the suburbs. Not having the broader discussion is the mistake small towns all over the country have made when they accept a Wal-Mart.
Lipkin needs permission to change the planned building size from 27,000 square feet to over an acre at 50,000 square feet. A specialty grocer of that size would make Basalt a regional center for shopping. What stores like Epicurious or El Jebeverage might be pushed out of business? Currently, a few stores in the valley compete with each other, but they haven’t seen the competition from a big box. Willits, as a regional center for anything, was never part of the community’s vision.
There are alternatives to Whole Foods that could fit into the smaller building as well as fit the community goals. Those alternatives are part of the broader conversation that we are not having.
Given the history of corporate decision-making, Whole Foods could eventually vacate that one-acre building. What do you suppose the developers would be asking for then? Is it a stretch to assume they would tell the town there is a duty to protect the remaining Willits retailers that are in need of a new anchor tenant? If that ever happened, we might be looking down the barrel of Wal-Mart type retailer moving to Basalt.
If we respect our history, Whole Foods at Willits is the right store in the wrong place. Whole Foods, as a regional retailer, belongs on the I-70 corridor in Glenwood Springs. It is a much better fit with the other regional big box stores such as Target and Lowe’s.
The Basalt council should thank the developers and politely deny the application.