Whole Foods’ Basalt store will shrink
BASALT – Whole Foods Market intends to open a 25,000-square-foot grocery store in Basalt within the next 18 months, the company’s top executive in the region said Monday.
Will Paradise, Rocky Mountain region president, said Whole Foods signed the lease last week with Joseph Freed and Associates LLC (JFA) for the new store at the Willits Town Center development. An earlier deal for a 44,000-square-foot market at the same site fell through when the developer’s financing dried up in the recession.
Paradise said the 43 percent decrease in the proposed store’s size reflects the realities of today’s economy. The company is shrinking the size of its new stores. Whole Foods has opened several smaller stores in recent months, including a similarly sized one in Maui and two in Santa Cruz, Calif., that are less than 25,000 square feet.
“I think the store is going to do really well for us,” Paradise said.
To put the store’s planned size into perspective, the Basalt City Market is about 52,000 square feet.
Whole Foods, the world’s largest retailer of natural and organic groceries, still attracts shoppers from the Roaring Fork Valley to its Bel Mar and Cherry Creek stores in the Denver area despite the tough economic times, he said. That level of customer loyalty makes him confident the Basalt store will be a success.
The Willits store will create about 120 jobs, Paradise said.
The original lease for the 44,000-square-foot store was signed in May 2007. JFA was supposed to turn over the shell of the building to Whole Foods by June 1, 2009. Construction stalled after the foundation was poured and much of the infrastructure was completed. The Whole Foods space, visible from Highway 82, has been on hold since Labor Day 2008.
JFA spokeswoman Jayne Thompson said work is expected to resume Sept. 1. That requires an aggressive construction schedule to complete the project within the 18-month window outlined by Paradise. Thompson noted that construction should progress quickly once the project is started.
The biggest challenge apparently facing the developer is securing financing in this economic climate. National news reports indicate lending continues to be scarce for commercial projects. It’s verified locally by the number of abandoned projects in Aspen, at Snowmass’ Base Village and throughout the midvalley.
JFA, a major development firm based in Chicago, is constantly talking to investors and lenders, according to Thompson. The Whole Foods lease “was key to moving this project forward,” she said. Securing an anchor tenant is key to making a project more attractive for investors and lenders.
In a prepared statement, JFA President Larry Freed said: “This lease and the resulting job opportunities underscore the commitment of our company and of Whole Foods to the economic vitality and renewal of this community.”
Basalt Mayor Leroy Duroux said Friday that he was uncertain what level of amendments the approval for the Whole Foods space will require. He said town staff and the council should be able to get to the review quickly since so little other land-use activity is taking place.
Paradise said Whole Foods and JFA kept negotiating after the initial contract fell through in June. Whole Foods Market continues to view the valley as an attractive site, especially with a store situated where it can draw customers from both Aspen and Glenwood Springs.
“We always wanted to go there,” Paradise said.
The Basalt store will offer all the products and services that Whole Foods is known for, just on a smaller scale. The chain has 267 stores, each with unique characteristics. Paradise said the Basalt store will work with growers in the Paonia area to provide them with a place to sell. Whole Foods has started working on the design of the Willits Town Center store, he said.
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