Paul Andersen: Fair Game
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
“Hey, it’s just another grocery store!” dismissed my 19-year-old son with a wave of his hand as we approached Whole Foods on opening day.
This was before we had seen the elephant, before we realized that Whole Foods is more of a cultural experience than a grocery store. This was before Willits and the midvalley were inexorably transformed by a wholesome new shopping experience that has engulfed Basalt in an exurban atmosphere emanating from the anchor chain for a revitalized local economy.
The buzz was palpable even before we entered through the sliding glass doors on that auspicious day when a carnival atmosphere flourished as cars, bikes, baby strollers and kids on skateboards convened at the new magnetic north for discerning shoppers, a compass bearing that points with an unwavering needle to Whole Foods.
A security cop in uniform directed the throng of traffic. Tents were being set up outside. People were milling about expectantly. A festive mood prevailed. Most noticeable were the happy smiles on people’s faces. Even the cop grinned as he waved us onward into the next phase of consumerism.
It was as if a new day were dawning with a green sunrise brightened with the promise of holistic, organic, renewable sustainability. A healthy eminence exuded from the new store with a warm commercial aura. My son and I stepped into the excitement with quiet suspicion and tremulous excitement.
Inside the store, the buzz intensified as Whole Foods employees established their new beachhead in Basalt. This benign landing force demonstrated its ardor with warm greetings, handshakes and direct eye contact, making the store feel like a food sanitarium where a gregarious staff of nurses and orderlies answered every new face with assurance and familiarity.
I later learned that many of these workers were imports from other Whole Foods stores, most notably from Boulder, where a compatible demographic brought on by a psychological meshing of like-minded people embarked on the sacred mission of filling the home larder with soul-nurturing foodstuffs proffered by legions of exuberant workers characterizing a Norman Rockwell ideal of communal comfort.
After a quick survey of my fellow shoppers, I surmised that many were prosperous part-time Aspenites who had just stepped off private jets and made the pilgrimage to Whole Foods in Range Rovers, Escalades and Porsches. They strolled through the store in elegant casual dress, a new costume for Basalt’s midvalley, representing the advance guard of attractive profiles that Whole Foods assiduously cultivates.
I soon noticed that my son had fallen into a stupor, unable even to push the shopping cart or venture down unfamiliar aisles. A rustic child, he was overwhelmed by the blinding stimulation, so I steered him around the store to keep him from bumping into things.
Equally distracted were conspicuous well-heeled shoppers, many of whom had never before set eyes on the midvalley. They carefully appraised Willits like prospective tenants for a new urban high-rise, perhaps wondering what life would be like north of Basalt, the valley’s Mason-Dixon Line.
Finally I saw someone I knew, a woman studying an artful display of whole-grain cereals. When I tapped her on the shoulder, she turned and grinned. “Are you happy?” she asked, smiling as if she had just whiffed nitrous oxide. “Is this the happiest place you’ve ever been?” She threw an item into her cart and merged with the muddled masses.
It suddenly struck me that Basalt’s economic resurgence is assured, that Willits will fester with new commercial energy, drawing businesses from downtown Basalt to this locus of community revival. I realized too that an ensuing fiscal vitality will expand beyond Willits into tributary valleys, raising property values and spreading prosperity across the landscape like a radioactive glow.
For every organic Hotchkiss peach, every ear of Olathe corn, every pound of Crystal River meats sold by Whole Foods, the midvalley will burgeon with an infectious infusion of capital stimulus.
Whole Foods is “only a grocery store,” but it represents the vanguard of free-range capitalism for hip commodities in which a Starbucks might soon figure. And so the once rural midvalley morphs into a polished cityscape in which Willits has become the centripetal focus of a bright and shining future for us all.
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