5 years in the making, Lafayette Whole Foods opens

May 18, 2011 7:18:25 PM PDT
A project that was in limbo for five years is finally off the ground in Lafayette. The new Whole Foods store opened Wednesday on Mt. Diablo Boulevard. It's the sixth store the Austin, Texas based company has opened in the Bay Area in the past 18 months.

The economy and declining earnings prompted Whole Foods to put this store and others on hold, and while the company gave up entirely on some planned locations, it didn't on this one.

"It's going to be a lot more convenient than driving to Walnut Creek for the items that we do need from Whole Foods," said shopper Beth Real, who lives in Orinda.

Despite consumer taste for organic produce and gourmet delicacies, the recession prompted many shoppers to stop buying them. In August 2008, Whole Foods reported a 30 percent drop in third quarter earnings and canceled or delayed half of its 30 planned store openings.

"About three or four years ago, when the economy went down, we had to look at our stores and say, is this the right time to be opening stores?" explained Gary Ramirez, the Lafayette store's team leader. "We did get out of a couple leases here and there, but we knew this was going to be a great spot so we held onto it and we're happy that we did."

Last summer, Whole Foods went ahead with the permitting for its Lafayette location, one of several new businesses moving into town.

"We've seen a steady increase in retail activity over the last couple of years. It's just been getting a little bit better, a little bit better," said Lafayette City Manager Steven Falk. "Our retail sales taxes are up about 5 percent over the last year."

As an added bonus, Whole Food brings with it more than 150 jobs.

"Approximately 165 people have been hired," said Ramirez. "About 100 of those were transferred team members from other locations, and approximately 65 were from Lafayette and neighboring communities."

Though the economy is still fragile, Whole Foods is hoping the big turnout for this opening is a sign that people are once again willing to pay for high quality food.

"We have cut back other places and we found also with our budget that we spend almost the same amount on the food that's not the same quality," said shopper Bill Real.

Even though Whole Foods put some planned locations on hold three years ago, more recently they have expanded considerably in the Bay Area. This is the second grand opening this year, and there's at least one more that will open by the end of the year.


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