Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
August 7, 2012
Golly! Wowie-zowie! Gee whiz! Just one more week! I can’t stand it! I can’t believe it! I can’t …
OK. Hang on. That’s enough. Actually, in fact, I really cannot believe it. Here we are in Aspen, Colorado. Worldly, sophisticated, hypereducated, oh-so au courant Aspen, Colorado – and the hot topic of all the gossip, the biggest thing to happen in years is … the opening of a new grocery store.
Oh, sure, I know: It’s Whole Foods, which is finally reaching some sort of commercial climax after the longest session of developmental foreplay in memory.
(The process reminded me of an old gag: Q: What’s Jewish foreplay? A: Three hours of begging.)
First came the tease. (Will they? Won’t they? They have to! They won’t. Oh, no! Oh … yes!”)
Then came approval and then the hole in the ground. Years and years of that hole in the ground. (Hole Foods.)
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And now, at last – boy, oh, boy, oh, boy! – comes the grand opening and the inevitable metamorphosis into Whole Paycheck.
So, yes, Whole Foods will offer some great new choices. There will be a lot of organic food. A lot of delicious food. A lot of flat-out good stuff.
And, yes, a lot of people are sick and thoroughly tired of City Market – but, really, folks. Get a grip.
It’s a grocery store.
Just a grocery store.
It is not – reality check, please – the Second Coming.
(OK. Time out to offend a lot of readers with an irrelevant memory. When I was in college in New Haven, one of the local radio stations ran an on-the-air contest: “Complete this phrase: If God were a Yalie … ” And the contest ended with an instant winner when a visiting Vassar girl phoned in: “If God were a Yalie, there’d be no Second Coming.”)
As a well-traveled friend pointed out, Whole Foods is just another big corporation.
No! Blasphemy! It’s not “just another corporation”! It’s wondrous, enlightened Whole Foods.
But I was talking with someone who had an inside glimpse of some Whole Foods acquisition negotiations, and he reported that the Whole Foods CEO was as savagely ruthless as anyone could imagine a soul-less major corporate CEO to be.
Which is, of course, appropriate for the CEO of “a major corporation.” But maybe not for someone who would wear the mantle of “super-groovy savior.”
Still, business is business. That’s the way it has to be – or, at least, the way it is. I guess we can live with that. (Hey, we all managed to overlook Steve Jobs’ … um … shortcomings. Right?)
And, while we’re on the subject, if you care, Whole Foods founder and CEO John Mackey is fiercely opposed to unions, came out against health care reform and is also a climate-change denier. In an interview with The New Yorker magazine, he rejected “hysteria about global warming” and said that any warming would be a good thing. “Historically,” Mackey said, “prosperity tends to correlate to warmer temperatures.”
Does any of that matter when it’s time to grab your wallet and go shopping?
Probably not. But we need to keep things clear.
Whole Foods is just another big corporation.
And the store that is about to open in El Jebel is just another grocery store. Nicer than some. Not as nice as others. (Personally, I was hoping for a Trader Joe’s.)
Why do I care?
Well, partly because I’m embarrassed for my community. As noted above: Really folks, it does not reflect well on us that we are reacting to a new grocery store like a pre-pubescent girl at a Justin Bieber concert.
But I will admit that I’m also a little worried about the impact of the new market on some existing stores that I really care about.
Obviously, City Market is not in that group.
City Market is owned by Kroger, which is the largest grocery chain in the country – with more than $90 billion in sales.
They’ll be OK.
Although one does have to wonder if there’s a Whole Foods mole hiding somewhere deep within Kroger HQ in Cincinnati.
What other explanation could there be for the decision to turn the El Jebel City Market upside down and change the location of virtually everything in the store just weeks before Whole Foods opened?
Now the usual barrier to switching markets – the fact that you can’t find anything in a new grocery store – is eliminated: No one can find anything in the existing grocery store.
Switching will be so much easier.
Thanks, City Market.
But I am concerned about two existing very real, very local, very small food shops in El Jebel.
Epicurious and The Upper Crust are the kind of truly local businesses that make shopping a pleasure.
It’s great to go into a store where the people behind the counter know you, greet you by name, are glad to see you, take time to chat with you and remember what you bought last week.
That’s the way it ought to be.
I would hate to see the small, local guys crushed by the big newcomer.
I know. Whole Foods will be buying from an impressive number of local suppliers – and that is also the way it ought to be.
And, again, I know, there are people at City Market who recognize longtime customers and greet us by name.
These things are always delicate balancing acts.
In the end, I suppose most of us who shop at Whole Foods will still have to make regular visits to City Market for some of the basic goods.
And while we’re over there, I hope many of us will take the time to stop at Epicurious and The Upper Crust. Maybe everyone can survive.
One way or another, life will go on.
But for crying out loud, everyone: Calm down!
Show a little self-control.
It’s just another grocery store.
(Yeah – but it’s opening in a week! I can’t wait!)
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