Whole Foods Effect
Today’s WaPo business section fronts a story about the socio-economic symbolism of Whole Foods.
Here’s one for the B-school textbooks: the Whole Foods Effect. Homeowners, real estate brokers and builders see the natural foods powerhouse not just as a grocery but also as an engine for development. In Pittsburgh’s East Liberty neighborhood, a Whole Foods is credited with triggering a revival. In Sarasota, Fla., developers say they pre-sold all 95 apartments in a condominium tower because a Whole Foods opened on the first floor. And in Washington, many trace the revival of Logan Circle and the 14th Street corridor to the opening in 2000 of a Whole Foods on P Street NW.
The hunger of some residents for the cachet of Whole Foods is stirring unease among working-class residents who worry they will be forced out by new affluence and among longtime retailers who are struggling with rising rents and sagging sales.
I shop Whole Foods (on Duke Street in Old Town Alexandria) regularly because of the high quality food, excellent customer service, and convenience. I’m willing and able to pay a premium for those things and Whole Foods is thriving by catering to those who are.
OTB roving correspondent Richard Gardner, who sent me the link to the story, refers to the chain as “Whole Paycheck” for good reason.
While I understand the concern of those who fear that upscale development will drive the poor out of the inner cities, there’s a chicken-egg dynamic at work. While it’s probably true that the existence of luxury amenities like Whole Foods stores will encourage more affluent people to move into a neighborhood, it would only happen toward the end of the gentrification cycle. One doesn’t put such a store in a depressed neighborhood, for obvious reasons.